UK CORE 2012: The Nowhere Bell Tower
What is the idea or vision behind your piece?
The Nowhere Bell Tower is about bringing to life the extraordinary excitement and wonder of the foundry to Burning man, by exploring European medieval traditions of bell casting. We will make a 20 foot high bell tower and cast several bronze bells at the base of the tower over the course of two nights.
The event of the bell casting is a vivid form of theatre, with lots of gruff sooty people running around with a fanatical look in their eye. The roar of the furnace, the foundry hands getting people involved by giving them a chance to put rings into the crucible (rings given out by stooges in crowd) and then the great revealing moment when the crucible is lifted out of the furnace, its hue a brilliant orange and the liquid phosphorescent bronze being poured in to the mould.
I have been teaching bronze casting for five years now from university level to free schools. I have enjoyed thoroughly showing to unknowing eyes the wonder of molten metal and also getting people together in a team for the process of bronze casting. Letting people get involved with a process, which is very far removed from their everyday life brings a real excitement to my self and those involved.
The bell casting process celebrated in the Tarkovsky film ‘Andrei Rublev’ where the bell itself is an archetypal form associated with the spread of Christianity from the 6th century AD. I seek to subvert this tradition by bringing it to a new setting and giving it a new ritualized non-Christian meaning. Making a new tradition of bell founding where there is a fantastic hybrid of theatre and art.
Here are some factual references:
video of concept and history∞
Appendix: A Brief history of mobile bell founders in pre-industrial Europe.
In pre-industrial Europe ‘bell founders’ used to go around different towns and villages and cast bells in church yards. This would be a big community event where everyone would pitch in in various forms from helping to dig the foundry pit (usually in the church yard.) to helping contribute with charcoal for the melting of the bell bronze. When the metal had been melted in its crucible the founders would invite local dignitaries to give gold and silver in the crucible to strengthen the bell's resonances.
Physical description of the project
The Nowhere Bell Tower will stand around 20 foot high and the base of the tower will be 3.5 x 3.5 foot. At the top of the tower there will be a slightly larger platform 4.5 foot. To get to this platform you will need to go up a ladder through the centre of the tower. At the apex of the tower the bells will hang. The structure will generally have a Anglo medieval feel to it with larger bits of rough sawn timber. (see pictures)
On the Monday and Tuesday night we will bring a mobile foundry to the base of the bell tower. The mobile foundry consists of two gas powered furnaces and many archaic looking foundry tools. A bell casting ceremony will commence, including participants in the theatrics. (See below description of interactivity.) From afar the foundry has a red glow from the furnaces and kicks up quite a noise from the gas torches (See attached pictures for look of act of casting ceremony.) This will happen twice over an evening each casting process takes around two hours and will happen on the Monday and Tuesday night.
The bells will be left to cool overnight while been supervised by some of the Bell founders. It will take several hours to cool to a safe temperature but by morning they will be able to be cracked open of their mould.
On this morning a temporary structure will erected, about four foot by four foot. Inside this construction a large metal bucket will be placed with the bells inside. People will be invited inside the temporary structure to urinate on the bell to naturally patinate it. (The greening of bronze or copper that happens over time is sped up hugely by urine.)
Note you won't be able to see people peeing from the playa because of the structure, and no urine will go on the playa it will all safely go in the bucket. It'll be constantly manned (from outside the temporary structure) at this stage to manage the situation.
The bells will then be put in to position on the Wednesday and people would be allowed to climb the tower and ring the bells.
Later on in the event, I plan to burn down the tower. The date and timing of this burn will be coordinated with the Burning Man arts team as part of the CORE burn.
The making and manufacture of the tower will be a participatory process for UK and Nowhere burners. I will liaise with my local community as well as regional reps from UK and nowhere to see who would like to fill the various administrative, fundraising and manufacturing roles.
The spectacle of the working foundry and pouring the liquid bronze in to a bell mould is in itself quite a ceremonial act and people will be invited to participate by being given ‘silver rings’ ( actually tin) to give into the furnace. They are also quite welcome to cast any copper, bronze, brass, silver and gold objects into the furnace, as is historically customary for the bell casting process. Myself and a couple of performers would play upon the history of bell founding in local towns. A loud foundry member would go around asking for Gold and Silver for the crucible to ‘strengthen the tone and resonances of the bell’. A couple of stooges in the audience would be going around while this is happening and giving out ‘silver rings’ to donate some gold and silver for the crucible this will hopefully insight people to donate some of there own precious metals to the melting pot. After people have put there metals into the crucible, the pouring of the bell bronze into the bell mould would commence (to jubilation).
After the bell is cast and cooled down people will be asked to urinate on it; this speeds up the patination of the bronze i.e. making the bronze go green and looking aged. Inviting people to put metals into the bell or urinate on the bell makes them feel apart of the making of the bell as the have quite literally put some of themselves it the making of the bell.
The tower will also be climbable so persons can climb and ring the bells themselves once they have been made and hung.
I have significant build experience. At the Nowhere festival (European regional event) I was responsible for the nowhere bell tower a version of what I’m proposing for this. This involved the quick successful build of the tower. But more importantly the organising and training of a foundry team able to deal with molten bronze at 1100 degrees centigrade.
Also I have worked with http://www.arcadiaspectacular.com/∞
the most exciting group to come out of the UK festival scene in years they ran the busiest field in Glastonbury festival this year. I made and curated a burn barrel area in their field at Glastonbury. This involved making seven sculptural burn barrels, also manning the area at night and making sure all the fires were well fed.