In 2013 the Science Museum in London invited me to create a permanent installation for their new Information Age Gallery. The gallery was a history of electronic communication and the period I was given to interpret was early European communication and the electric telegraph - explorations into morse code, monks electrocuting other monks, and murders.
The exhibition was officially opened by the Queen in autumn 2014.
I made a collection of animations, a toy theatre powered by compressed air, mechanical puppet peep-shows, maps, paintings, and a victorian morse code cross-stitch sampler. I was able to collaborate with a lot of interesting artists to help me make this work, including Tim Hunkin, Tim Spooner, and Dominque Brethes at Wolf Studios, as well as the curators and staff at the museum.
Here are my video diaries documenting some of the process . . .
This was the first time I had done a project based on real life people and events so I had to find some stories that fitted in with how I like to tell my own stories (because I couldn't just make things up). Luckily there were a lot of stories that involved murder, stupidity, animals, and love so I had plenty of interesting source material to begin my work with. I also learned that "bugger" is not a suitable word to include in song lyrics at a museum, and I wasn't able to prove that Jesus did or did not send a telegram, so we replaced him with Mozart (who probably didn't either).
The most complicated piece I made is a big mechanical toy theatre powered by compressed air. I got a lot of help building this (and making it all move) from Tim Hunkin, one of my favourite artists when I was younger (and now). Tim also helped me make a mechanical orrery sculpture for my adaption of "The Iron Man" at the Unicorn Theatre (have a look here).
I wrote a 7 minute mini musical for the puppets in the theatre to perform, focussing on 4 stories from the invention of electronic communication - from a French Abbe's early explorations into an electronic signal passing through a chain of monks, to the first (almost) instant communication across the Atlantic Ocean. I recorded the song with some of my band (Chicco Aurigemma, Will Connor, Simon Marshall, Amelia Jones and Carina Drury) and The Chaps Choir sang backing vocals.
If you're looking for something extra to de-code I added references to 3 of my favourite films in the cut-out paper crest at the top of the theatre.
Here are some photos of the toy theatre and also some photos of us all working on it:
I explored codewords in one of the pieces in the installation. To avoid paying the heavy costs of sending lengthy telegrams, books of codewords were created - one single, small (often invented) word standing in for a whole sentence. These animations were projected onto a painting of HMS Agamemnon when the corresponding codeword was pressed.
A little peep-show animation / mechanical theatre show, exploring early misconceptions and misunderstandings of the new electric cables appearing across the countryside.