Little Earth
London Fieldworks (14 January – 12 February 2005)

Little Earth, 2005, by London Fieldworks. Installation view at Wapping Hydraulic Power Station
Little Earth, 2005, by London Fieldworks. Installation view at Wapping Hydraulic Power Station

The Little Earth installation by London Fieldworks consisted of four channels of synchronised video shot on Haldde Mountain in the Norwegian Arctic, Ben Nevis in Scotland, and on the island of Svalbard. Video shot from four perspectives was projected onto a suspended cube-like structure, with an 8-channel surround sound score and narrated text. The visitor was invited to circumnavigate the work.

The piece inspired by two mountain observatories – Ben Nevis in Scotland and Haldde in the Norwegian Arctic – and two scientists  – CTR Wilson and Kristian Birkeland – who were stationed on each of the mountaintops in the 19th century. Rejecting didactic and documentary techniques for the idioms of contemporary music and literature, Little Earth is an audiovisual poem reflecting how the last of the natural philosophers became the first of the big scientists.  As technology and instrumentation replaces human intuition and perceptual faculties,  Little Earth  offers an opportunity to consider the implications for our future exploration and interpretation of the natural world.

Gilchrist and Joelson worked collaboratively with author James Flint, composer Dugal McKinnon, architect Ed Holloway and The Radio and Space Plasma Physics Group at the University of Leicester. As a prelude to this artwork, Gilchrist and Joelson formally twinned the Ben Nevis Observatory, Scotland,  with Haldde Observatory, Northern Norway, in a special ceremony hosted by the West Highland Museum, Fort William, on  2 October 2004.

Little Earth funded by Arts Council England, The Scottish Arts Council,  Lochaber Enterprise & The Highland Council. It is also supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Board and Arts Council England through the Arts and Science Research Fellowships Scheme.

See also Polaria, 2002, by London Fieldworks 

The looped, 21-minute video begins and ends in the starry blackness of the cosmos, in silence. Then, transmitted from somewhere in the far-flung reaches of the universe, come the fictional voices of the two scientists. Although they never met in life, as dispersed energy they reflect upon their earthly lives’ work, in a poetic meditation on science, space and time. The images, meanwhile, move from swooping mountain-top views to fictive reconstructions of the scientists in their huts with their instruments; then out to the giant receiving dish of a modern ultra-high frequency radio telescope; and an animated sequence of the Earth enmeshed within its magnetic field lines, which trail off into the solar system.

At times, the sound seems a little swamped by the space, but the piece never loses its charge. Themost entrancing segment takes a single hurricane lamp glowing outside the Ben Nevis observatory and multiplies it until the screens are dotted with swarming lights, leaving their speeding orange trails against the night- sky like a stream of charged particles hitting the Earth’s magnetosphere.

extract from review by Judith Palmer for the Independent  published on 28 Jan 2005