A site-specific sculpture for the group exhibition Constellations in the Chapter House of Chester Cathedral.
When approaching Between Heaven and Earth the viewer is not only entering the realm of the artwork, but also that of the untold stories of the two Victorian chimney pots which sit nestled together on a see-through plinth. Whose hands had made them more than a hundred years ago? Above which street and roof did they once tower? Whose stories of joys and sorrows had once travelled up with the smoke through their weather-beaten bodies of clay?
I had found these pots about five years ago while looking for Victorian doorknobs at an architectural salvage site in Glasgow. They caught my eye from amongst piles of building rubble and at the time I thought that they would serve as ideal substrates for mosaic garden sculptures.
Since purchasing the pots, I had made numerous design sketches for them, but none felt quite right. Over time my perception of these two vessels changed and I came to appreciate that their eroded and punctured bodies were testimonies to time spent in front of the warmth of an open fire. They had been conduits for exhaled breath and smoke over many years and have become a scaffold for memory, empathy and imagination, a melancholic presence without utilitarian value. Furthermore the idea of the fireside has a long and deep history and bears symbolism of humanity across millenniums. I had slowly become convinced and convicted to not erase or cover up their visible marks.
The open call for the Constellations exhibition in Chester Cathedral came at the time when I was working on a curiosity cabinet for the BAMM exhibition in the Scottish Borders. In the curiosity cabinet I emphasised the contrast between the organic materials with layers of time in them on the outside of the cabinet with that of the technological, illusive qualities of mirrored glass on the inside. It dawned on me then that I could follow the same conceptual approach with the chimney pots and in so doing respect their outer skins of layered time. It is then that the idea for Between Heaven and Earth crystallised.
By wrapping the insides of the pots with patterns of mirror mosaics, I aimed to evoke a contrasting, dreamlike, immateriality of reflection and light. I also wanted to establish a direct link with the specific site of the exhibition and incorporated details inspired by the existing Victorian mosaics in Chester Cathedral into the new mosaic designs. Each of the chimney pots is open at the bottom and sits over an opening in the plexiglass plinth. The mosaic designs are reflected in a rectangular sheet of mirror down below in the base of the plinth. Viewers are also confronted with their own reflections when looking down into the chimney pots from above. The rectangular mirror sheet might become a play on the idea of the television which has replaced the fireside as the heart in many homes in our current screen culture.
It has been my hope to provide a space for layered, complex reflection and wondrous fascination through a seemingly simple, decaying exterior and a dazzling interior.
Supplementary note: For those who are curious about how I approached the challenging task of making the mosaic on the inside of the chimney pots – here follows a short explanation of the method I had used. A method that is in itself the result of a process of trial and error.
After making a selection of photographic details from the Victorian mosaics in Chester Cathedral, I explored the sizes of mirror tesserae to use. I decided to work with hand cut squares of 20mm, 15mm, 12,5mm and 10mm.
I measured the top and bottom inside rings of the chimney pots and divided each circumference in eight equal spaces. Using these measurements, I then drew straight lines along the clean insides of the chimney pots. These vertical lines served as guides throughout the process of transferring designs from the outside to the inside of each chimney pot.
Next, I made pencil drawings on paper based on the photographic details of mosaics from Chester Cathedral and the different sizes of the tesserae. I traced each completed drawing so that I would have two of the same. On one of the drawings I lay out the design of mirror pieces. The other drawing I cut out like a stencil, then manoeuvred it into a pot and drew the lines for where exactly the mosaic would go. I transferred the mirror tesserae piece by piece from the first drawing/mosaic and placed it in the exact same place on the drawing inside. I had to compensate slightly for the concave and uneven surface of the inside. For this reason I did not glue the pieces down at first, but stuck them down with blue tack until all the sections were in place. I could then still make adjustments to the design before finally gluing each piece securely in place. Once the glue was dry, I masked off the areas that needed protection from grout, before grouting the mosaic. There are some intentional subtle differentiations in the colouring of the grout to add another layer of interest.