Thursday, August 19, 2010

Just magic - working on Globe for Magiciens de la Terre

From late 1987 I had the wonderful opportunity to work for Neil Dawson, the Christchurch based sculptor who exhibits around the world.

I was employed as a sculptors assistant ...I got to be his hands and it was just fantastic. Every morning when I came in to start work, there would be a pile of A4 sizes drawings he had done the night before - any of which could have become a work of art. Occasionally I got given a drawing and told to go off and make it - or several identical copies. I then realised what was meant by Michelangelo being a factory.

Neil was a really nice chap to work for, very talented and he taught me a lot by personal example.

From memory, about mid 1988, work started on Globe, which was to be hung above the plaza outside the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris as part of the exhibition Magiciens de la Terre.

First a small Marquette was made out of beaten metal mesh and presented with location photos.

Bruce Edgar who was Neil's technical wiz found a way to make this impossible object possible with investigations and trials of materials. Richard Reddaway made a 60cm sphere for a working drawing.

I got to spend 2 weeks at the University of Canterbury Geography Department watching all of the satellite imagery available. I remember being mesmerised by time lapse movies lasting months of swirling patterns of cloud moving across the planet. There were also books with photos taken by astronauts. It was just stunning!

I said in an interview at the time "We originally started off projecting photos onto the surface of the sphere and then accurately trying to trace them on. Every little dot and speck, and then going through and editing that. But it was too mechanical, so now it is being done in quite a sort of painterly way - I just try to put in the general sweeps and swirls and then put lots of resolution in. I noticed that all the scientists have got books and books and books on dissecting the weather, but they have no beautiful pictures of what it actually looked like. Its really very interpretive - a funny situation really - sort of like a ghost painter. I'm painting the world as I see it and Neil comes along and edits it. It's his choice."

The model was then photographed and projected up onto a series of hexagon plates made of a foam fiberglass composite that would eventually be bolted together to make a 4.5 meter hollow sphere suspended 25 meters above the Pompidou Plaza.

I traced photos, then cut out them out with a router. I can still remember the fiberglass dust and the breathing gear.

I think 6 people were involved in making Globe. It was carefully assembled and hung from the rafters in Neil's studio. Neil spray painted it - he did an amazing job - just perfect.

Then Neil and Bruce went to Paris to put it up.

The whole thing was a great experience. After the exhibition was over it went to a gallery in New Plymouth and then outside a gallery somewhere in Australia where it was eventually destroyed in a storm.

Looking back, Neil showed incredible guts tackling this project. Everyone worked very hard and it was at the limit of technology. It was an honour to be part of it.

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