Sometimes it is liberating to make something simply because you want to. A recent discussion with my business partner led to a project based on merging our common interests. The theme which connected our diverse styles was ‘pathways’ – or ‘journeys through time, emotion and landscape’.
We decided to explore this theme by visiting ancient hilltop sites where fire beacons were positioned to communicate across vast distances. One beacon being lit would trigger the lighting of the next, until the message (often of impending danger or invasion) reached its destination.
Our ‘Beacon’ series will reconnect these historic locations using a portable neon kit. Each installation is an event which consists of a trek to a high point from which one looks over an expansive landscape. The neon beacons recreate a visual passage and exist for a few hours from dusk into night during which time they send messages and tell stories.
This is an ongoing and progressive project within which we encourage collaboration and challenge the notion of the gallery as a space for showing work. A map is gradually being drawn which will connect all of the locations and memories of the events.
Because there is no client or deadline we have been able to let the project evolve with input from others. We have been joined by RAW Unlimited, a brand company, who suggested we could also traverse London from point to point. These locations will not be fire beacon sites but instead invitations – each with a host bringing their own story to the project. The hosts will determine the route of the line and, to a great extent, its meaning.
This urban idea grew when a planned beacon build was curtailed due to heavy rain and a local vicar invited us to create the beacon in his church. Thus the beacon took on new meanings and the invitation was extended to put the light on the top of his church tower. This will be the start of the invited line across London.
Interesting questions are raised by this project about the nature of installation art and collaboration. For example, who owns the work? Who are the creators? At what point does the event become an artwork?…Is it the time the beacon is alight or are the conversations and meetings just as valid as performance pieces in their own right? Is the beacon just a device for exploring the stories which emerge? Is the memory of the event more significant than the photos? What defines a gallery?…Our gallery is the landscape and as dusk turns to night our view of the landscape recedes – the gallery walls draw closer – leaving us alone with the neon. The audience is not invited; they either volunteer, arrive like moths to a flame or experience the work from a distance and draw their own conclusions about what they have seen.
The neon kit has now doubled in size and we are intrigued to see what happens next. Updates to the project will be posted on mussonretallick.com mackaydesignstudio.co.uk and Instagram @neil_musson.