(16mm film installlation)

FOSSIL focuses on the Royal Academy School’s collection of historic architectural casts, copies of antique columns, capitals and friezes. They were once used as teaching aides at the RA Schools. But, since the Architecture School closed in the 1950s, these casts were hidden behind temporary studio walls.

The central section of the film records the revealing of the casts and their demounting. Because of the ungainliness and fragility of the casts, their removal was undertaken by hand, using webbing, ropes, pulleys and physical force, in much the same way that they were installed in the mid 19th century. Using in-camera editing techniques to emphasise the precariousness and drama of this event, the film records the struggle to remove the casts

Although the entire film was shot in black and white, the action is interrupted by intensely coloured sequences in which optically printed negative film is vividly tinted by colour gels that move back and forth in front of the projector on a handmade motorized mechanism. In these sequences of intense, close-up images the casts are reimagined as the subject of one of Jean Painlevé’s eerie underwater films of crustaceans, molluscs and seahorses, or as the encrusted shipwrecks in Jacques Cousteau’s early film, Silent World. Or even, as ancient life forms, now fossilised, that have in some way been slowly secreted from the walls of the RA Schools Studios.

Exploiting the simple act of changing the orientation of an object, the installation also includes a number of un-refurbished early 19th century casts from the RA collection, laid on their backs and placed on felt blankets and simple wooden transportation pallets. We usually see architectural casts from a distance, elevated high up on a wall, or at the summit of a column, here the casts can be seen in close up, their weight, roughness and organic qualities emphasised by the awkwardness and vulnerability with which they seem to lie prone on the ground.

At the heart of the installation is a concern with the copy. The casts, of course, are plaster copies, but they sit at the centre of a spiral of more and more copies; a set of photographic reprints of the young German artist Blinky Palermo atop an impossibly high ladder painting the cornice in the cast gallery at Edinburgh College of Art in 1971; a painters facsimile of a water colour made for a lecture by Sir John Soane at the Royal Academy in 1801, which depicts another young man up an impossibly high ladder, this time surveying the Temple of Jupiter Stator at Rome; and the film print itself (which echoes the negative to positive relationship between mold and cast, a relationship complicated here by using an optical printer to copy the original negative as a positive, so that it can be printed to a 16mm exhibition print for projection as a negative).

16mm film, black & white with colourised section, silent, 13mins.

Processing and digital transfers.

Negative cutting.
Steve Farman.

Optical printing, grading and exhibition prints.

FOSSIL was commissioned for the Weston Studio by Eliza Bonham Carter, Curator and Head of RA Schools.

Exhibition organised by Joanna Thomas, Exhibitions Coordinator.

With thanks to Helen Valentine, Senior Curator, Daniel Bowmar, Collections Manager, Adam Waterton, Head of Library Services.

With special thanks to:

Jeremy Keenan for help and expertise in designing and programming the frame driven colour slide controller.

Martin Grover for the watercolour copy of Henry Parke, ‘Student Surveying the Temple of Jupiter Stator at Rome’.

David Leister for his assistance and generous support.

Thanks to:

The Richard Demarco archive, Edinburgh University, for permission to use photographs of Blinky Palermo making the work ‘Blue/Yellow/White/Red’ for the exhibition ‘Strategy: Get Arts’ at Edinburgh College of Art, 1970, curated by Richard Demarco.

Sir John Soane’s Museum, London, for permission to use Henry Parke, ‘Student Surveying the Temple of Jupiter Stator at Rome’, 1801, watercolour.

We would also like to thank to Momart, and the RA Schools students for their cooperation and participation.

Additional support:

The Elephant Trust.

Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London.

Department of Art, Goldsmiths, University of London.