Greenwich Degree Zero

Curated by Lorna Brown and Jonathan Middleton

In 1894 an out-of-work French tailor named Martial Bourdin blew himself to pieces in front of the Greenwich Observatory. Found in his pockets were a membership card for the Autonomie Club in London, two tickets to a masked ball in aid of the Revolutionary Party and several recipes for explosives. Rod Dickinson, working with writer Tom McCarthy, presents Greenwich Degree Zero, a restaging of this attempt to blow up time, best known through the Joseph Conrad novel The Secret Agent.

Greenwich Degree Zero re-imagines the attack as a success, with the Observatory and the meridian line damaged or destroyed. The installation includes a reconstructed film of the bombing, video interviews with contemporary explosives experts and political historians, and an invented archive of newspaper articles, pamphlets and police files. These reconstructed chronicles include the speculation that Bourdin was working for the police, who wanted to help the passage into law of Lord Salisbury’s Aliens Bill, which proposed a weakening of asylum rights by tying the bombing to foreign undesirables. Hovering between credibility and contrivance, Dickinson’s archival documents and film footage re-frame current events as they are represented in press and media coverage.

Rod Dickinson is interested in the way in which performances are confused with reality, and the role of charisma and authority in definitions of leadership. His re-enactment titled The Promised Land referred to the persuasive political sermons delivered by Jim Jones, the seventies cult leader of The People’s Temple. In the Milgram Reenactment, Dickinson re-staged the post-war Obedience to Authority experiments of Yale professor Stanley Milgram. Re-playing the experiment, whether social or clinical, leans upon the concept of repeatability, a feature of both performance and scientific method. Persuasion, the desire to belong, and a blurring of the boundaries between performer and audience are important themes within his practice, and implicate contemporary cultural forms and political formations.

Greenwich Degree Zero is commissioned by Beaconsfield, London. The full project will be exhibited there in 2006.