Sunset over Lake Michigan from Empire

Sunset over Lake Michigan from Empire Beach, Empire, Michigan, USA.

According to the calendar I made for myself  21-27 June this year is Midsummer week. The calendar is not always completely accurate and problems still remain with the odd day or two but I’m not the first person who has struggled to organise time around celestial and seasonal events.

From sunrise at 4:40am to sunset at 9:16pm today, Midsummer’s Eve, there is light. This day sees a continuation of  solstice celebrations of summer and light: baptisms in freezing water, bonfires on the beach and hurrahs as the sun burns holy picture gold, dips below a blanket of slate grey clouds and sets over big water.

A solo viewer watches the sunset on a screen in Canterbury England

A lone viewer watches  the sunset in Empire, USA from Canterbury, England in the early hours of the morning BST.

East Kent, in the southeast corner of England, in Britain, is an area described by artist J.W.M. Turner as having skies that “…are the loveliest in all Europe…”. Whitstable is a small town located in Kent on the north coast on the Thames estuary  where local people continue to enjoy the sea and sunsets throughout the solstice and midsummer period.  Nearby, is Canterbury, an historic city set in the heart of the Kent countryside. It is the city where I live.

Both places are familiar and home to me now.

A couple watch the sunset from Canterbury, England

A couple watch the Empire sunset in real time from Canterbury, England in the early hours of the morning BST.

Across the pond, the village of Empire sits within the 71,000 acre Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, one of more than 380 parks in the National Park System in the United States. The park is located on the shores of Lake Michigan on the northwestern side of the state of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Recently the park was designated as ‘wilderness’ providing permanent protection by Federal law. I have spent much time in Empire. It is in the ‘wilderness’ where I lived.

Both places are familiar and home to my heart.

For centuries the British Empire was one on which ‘the sun never sets’.  The 20th century saw its fall and the rise of the American ’empire’. In the 21st century the American follows the British in decline. Neither place has a home on my calendar chart.

A lone viewer watches the sunset from Whitstable, UK in the early hours of the morning BST

A lone viewer watches the Empire sunset in real time from Whitstable, England in the early hours of the morning BST

Nearly 4000 miles and five time zones, different cultures and histories separate England from Empire. Technology, art and nature connect the two in ‘Empire Sunset‘. The screen shows sunsets in real time from the village of Empire, USA  to viewers in East Kent in the UK during the days surrounding the summer solstice.

The five-hour time difference means that each sunset over Lake Michigan comes on the screen in England in the early hours of the morning. On the days surrounding the summer solstice, the view from Empire appears and disappears until the last sun sets and the screen fades to black.

Empire Sunset’ serves as a reflection on our times where change is constant, certainty is transient, empires rise and fall and nature remains compelling, fragile, and enduring.

Empire Sunset live on a screen  in Whitstable, UK early in the morning BST.

Empire Sunset live on a screen in Whitstable, England in the early hours of the morning BST.

Empire Beach, Michigan, USA
Horsebridge Centre, Whitstable, UK
Kent School of Architecture, University of Kent, Canterbury, UK

Thank you to Professor Don Gray, B.Wood, C.Jones, N.Evans, H.Sparks & the Kent School of Architecture also Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak 10228 W.Front St. Empire, Michigan, USA.  http://sbsurfandkayak.com/

Dark Matter: Pitch Drop Cities

Dark Matter: Cities - London (detail)

Dark Matter: Cities – London (detail)

Bitumen* is a petroleum based product that feels solid at room temperature yet moves over time. It is a preservative, one of the oldest materials used in building and a subject of scientific interest.

Bitumen has been bubbling out of the ground in Southern California, Southern Iraq and other sites around the world for thousands of years. From the Ice Age to the present, bitumen has perfectly preserved things entrapped in it. Extinct plants and animals from 40,000 years ago have been discovered, preserved on site at Rancho La Brea in the heart of what is now Los Angeles.

In southern Iraq, ancient model boats from 2300-2100 BC were found in graves in the cemetery at UR. It is thought the boats may have been intended for use by the dead person or as ‘bait’ to lure away evil spirits. There is a 4000 year old bitumen boat in Room 56 of the BritishMuseum. The small boats made of bitumen and earth are similar to those used in the marshes of south Iraq today.

In 1927 Professor Thomas Parnell began the Pitch Drop Experiment at the University of Queensland. As a classical physicist, Parnell used the observable property of ‘creep’ or permanent deformation exhibited by pitch to set up an experiment to study the material’s fluidity and high viscosity. Since 1927 eight drops of pitch have fallen from a funnel into a beaker below.  The ninth drop is expected to fall in 2013.

Dark Matter: Cities – London replicates Parnell’s scientific experiment with a bitumen London sited in the funnel.  Like Parnell’s experiment this sculpture, comprised of 95/25 bitumen compound, will move to ground over decades.  Already the London Eye has keeled over; St. Paul’s is slipping into blackness.

Dark Matter: Cities - London

Dark Matter: Cities – London
Bitumen 95/25, funnel, beaker, tripod, bell jar, stand


All cities change.  Dark Matter: Cities – Detroit finds the city’s skyline  sinking under the weight of its dark troubles. The current Detroit is a shadow of its former self. In time it will take a new form. What that form will be is uncertain. What is certain is that it will not be like the old city.

Dark Matter Cities Detroit Day 1

Dark Matter: Cities – Detroit
Day 1
Bitumen 95/25, 70/100, hourglass, stand, 30x12x12cm


Dark Matter Cities Detroit Day 5 detail

Dark Matter Cities Detroit Day 5 detail

The ‘Dark Matter’ series refers to the vast majority of matter and energy in the universe that exists but cannot be seen. In the ‘Dark Matter’ sculptures the properties of bitumen are exploited to explore work that, like nature, changes over time and moves from form to formlessness. Their descent into disorder evokes ideas of time, entropy, chaos and loss. The rate at which each sculpture moves is determined by temperature and the grade of bitumen. Sculptures made of more viscous grades will move to ground over hours, days or weeks.  Eventually, all ‘Dark Matter’ sculptures will exist only as pools of pitch containing them and  other things entrapped with them.

*The words bitumen/tar/pitch are used interchangeably.

My thanks to HCDS, AM Designs, and Hamilton Glass.


We Are All In This Together


Self change dressing + stitches + wire cube + bruising 17 March 2011

The fingers are working. It has been over a year since the second operation to repair them. The surgery was a success. Scar tissue was cleared. Therapy and hard work paid off. A year ago this coming week the therapist signed the appointment sheet, “S.O.S. only”.  Consultant and therapist sent my hand and me away with orders to continue the exercises and to massage the thin white scars and reclaimed fingers through to September of this year.

The rebuilt and restored digits are not yet really mine. Although they look like fingers they feel more like stuffed sausages, swollen, stretched, thick and tight, protruding from my hand. Like ‘meat substitutes’, reconstituted fingers are similar to but not quite the real thing: a bit conceptually flawed, usually falling down in name and often failing in practice.

But needs must during these difficult times.  Everyone knows compromises must be made.  We are, we are told, “all in this together”. My fingers and I must put aside our prejudices and accept if not fully embrace our differences.

The fingers had not asked to be crushed in a garage door. It wasn’t their fault they ended up this way.  They are trying to do their bit. They almost straighten completely when extended and they curve nearly perfectly into a closed, crooked fist. Only the middle finger insists on making a statement, dragging up the past with a slightly twisted joint and too thick middle. “You don’t notice unless you’re looking”, people kindly say.

Post therapy III + IV + monster puppets/stitches out 21 March 2011

As children we did not usually notice what was wrong. Things happened when no one was looking.  It was never clear who had done it.  What was clear was that someone had done something wrong and the culprit had to be found.  Continue reading

Good Friday

Bound hand + wire cube own therapy 31 March 2010

Bound hand therapy self inflicted 31 March 2010

The medical team was calm, thorough and efficient. Repeated queries about my identity, a large arrow on my left arm pointing toward my hand and the two ‘x’ marks on the fingernails of my middle and ring finger helped to ensure the correct person, arm and digits went under the knife. The anaesthesiologist and the surgeon identified themselves and explained what they were planning. All concerns and doubts about the surgery and outcome were clearly outlined. Did I still wish to proceed? I did. Continue reading