Saturday 14 June 2008


There are only two more days in which to look into the Telectroscope...

Click to enlarge

We went yesterday: I think it was that blog about art that sent me in search of Paul St George's 'installation'; that, and knowing that it was being stage managed by Artichoke - who, two years ago, brought us the wondrous Sultan's Elephant - in association with Tiscali.

The important thing is, if you're anywhere near Tower Bridge or Brooklyn Bridge before 11.00 pm London time or 6 pm New York time tomorrow (Sunday 15 June) then make sure you stop by and take a peep.

If you've missed hearing about this fascinating event then here's a quick recap...
Some years ago an artist by the name of Paul St George happened upon a packet of dusty papers in a trunk in his grandmother’s attic. On further inspection he discovered that they had been the property of his great-grandfather, an eccentric Victorian engineer, Alexander Stanhope St George.

Click to enlarge

Paul began to read through the papers and discovered a veritable treasure trove: diaries, diagrams, correspondence, scribbled calculations, and even one or two photographs. [Among these was this picture of him - albeit damaged - with Isambard Kingdom Brunel for whom he worked as a boy. Ed.]

At first, Paul felt a detached interest in this first hand account of social and cultural history. But as he read on, he became more and more absorbed, until, with a sudden thrill, he realised that these papers could have a greater significance than was at first apparent.

Click to enlarge

The notebooks were full of intricate drawings and passages of writing describing a strange machine. This device looked like an enormous telescope with a strange bee-hive shaped cowl at one end containing a complex configuration of mirrors and lenses.

Click to enlarge

Alexander seemed to be suggesting that this invention, which he called a Telectroscope, would act as a visual amplifier, allowing people to see through a tunnel of immense length… a tunnel, the drawings implied, stretching from one side of the world to the other.

The idea of the Telectroscope seemed too outlandish to be possible and yet there was something in the scribbled notes that had the ring of truth about it. Despite the many gaps and inconsistencies, Paul began to piece together his ancestor’s remarkable story…
As a result, a few weeks ago, this seemingly fictional fantasy began to become a reality when London and New York saw the emergence of gigantic drill bits that proved to be a prelude to the installation of the St George Telectroscope...

The Telectroscope is described as a “device for the suppression of absence”: a gloriously arcane phrase but a truly delicious notion!

That device, which is currently embedded in the ground adjacent to London's City Hall, has the appearance of something devised by Monsieur Jules Verne in association with Mr H G Wells: a two way telescope in brass and iron that allows Londoners and New Yorkers to peer at one another through what - we are invited to believe - is a tunnel running beneath the Atlantic.

Like all installation art and every 'happening', you really have to be there, but Bryan Appleyard's analysis of the Telectroscope in a recent article in The Times is as good an explanation of its impact and effectiveness:
What is truly brilliant about the Telectroscope is that what it does is, in fact, nothing special. We can all “video conference” through our laptops from Starbucks. And that’s all the tube is, a broadband link – a very good one, incidentally; the image is superb. Yet what St George brings to the party is the power of metaphor and the restoration of wonder. The undersea tube is a metaphor for our new connectivity, and the Victorian styling – deliberately clunky – evokes a time when technology was wondrous and physically heavy, a muscular rather than merely a mental effort.

It certainly works. People were dancing in the lashing rain at 10am on Monday, and, amazingly, at 5am in New York, too – there was one guy in a baseball cap and one in a beanie just standing there and occasionally waving. Beanie eventually held up an enigmatic message on a whiteboard, something about Columbia. We couldn’t ask what he meant, though, because our whiteboard and felt-tips were soaked and unusable.

Later, a queue has built up, waiting amiably in the rain in a spirit-of-the-Blitz kind of way. Why are they there? “Amazing”, “wonderful”, “a community feeling”, “had to see it”.

Of course, the buzz word would be “interactivity”. The Telectroscope can be just looked through, but it only really works if you do something – wave, dance. It is a thing to do, not just to visit...
That's true: we waved quite a bit; we stared and peered, took photos and beckoned a hesitant New Yorker to come closer and got him to mime what it was o'clock...

And then --- David did what a member of staff later said was the most creative thing anyone had done for the Trans-Atlantic audience - he performed a magic trick for the people of Brooklyn!

And here's David's long-range appreciative audience...

To discover more, visit the official website of The Telectroscope.


Anonymous said...

WOW god..What an amazing pictures..I wish to be in UK in my next birth.REALLY COOL MAN.

Boll Weavil said...

This made the news when it was first set-up.What a great idea ! As you say, the reality of communication is not difficult in this era but the shape and design is fantastic.It evokes those great fifties films that first brought Verne and Wells to the living room and stirs the soul and the imagination about what might be possible.To beable to evoke that sense of wonder in a modern age where technology has dimmed our capacity for amazement is a great achievement indeed.

SharonM said...

Another great blog, Brian.
Shame it's not going to be a permanent fixture with sound added.
People born early in the last century have certainly seen an amazing amount of what would have been science fiction then, turned into fact.

Anonymous said...

True - in this day of instant video conferences and what have you, this gargantuan beast is simply amazing. Can you imagine how it would have been if St. George had actually built it back then, before telephones and computers?
And as for that gigantic drill head, thank heavens the engineering was well planned... imagine THAT coming up in the wrong place!

Anonymous said...

great post. I've added you to my delicious roll for the telectroscope.



Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, the torn picture is a mock up - a closer look reveals repeating patterns in the block upon which the lad is sat. Clever though it is, it's still a hoax. Have a look at the many versions of this picture on the internet and you'll find the original eventually, then you'll be certain.

Brian Sibley said...

Not so much a 'hoax' as a 'joke'. No one was supposed to believe it... :-)