Picture it and write: Installation

by joetwo

Hi there! This is my offering for this weeks Picture it and Write competition for Ermilia’s blog here. Once again, the picture is not mine, I only use it for inspiration. Anyway, enjoy!


Even though he was aware that it was incredibly stereotypical, Philly Stein never got art! Take him to any gallery anywhere in the world and he would just stare blankly, uncomprehending. He kind of understood the realistic works, the things that actually looked like something, but when things got surreal, he was gone. Still it didn’t stop Philly when he accept the commission from Lorenzo Fielding to supply him with materials. If only he knew at the time.

Philly honestly had never even heard of Lorenzo when he first called out of the blue one Monday evening. He Googled his name right after and found that Lorenzo was an artist famed for his ‘installations’, which could be set up anywhere. He was most famous for his recent work in ‘recreating’ famous paintings and other works in ‘real life’. He even won the Turner Prize for recreating the Dogs Playing Poker series, using real stuffed dogs (donated by their owners, having died of natural causes). There was enough hype on the net about this guy to convince Philly that he would be able to afford his services and to explain why he originally seemed, according to Phillys receptionist “A little bit full of himself!”

Lorenzo had explained to Philly that he was interested in making a replication of  Salvator Dali’s The Persistence of Memory, the painting with all the clocks melting. For that he was going to need high-definition screens in watch shapes made with flexible plastics. Philly had been involved with the original research at Sony to make the first flexible screens. They had big factories to build the regular shaped stuff in bulk but since you couldn’t just cut the screens to make other shapes you had to have them made to order. Philly had made a nice little niche for himself with that, commissioned, intelligent drapes for large corporate offices, novelty leaflets and the like. He figured that this clock thing would be no problem.

It took Philly and his team no more than a day to set up and calibrate the first clock. It had an unobtrusive cable going to a central power and control box that could carry up to twenty screens. Lorenzo had said that he only wanted the screens to show a clock face with the actual time but they had added some extra processing capacity; just in case. They then sent it off by courier to the artist’s New York studio to be evaluated and approved.

It apparently took Lorenzo all of fifty seconds from opening the package they sent to get on the line demanding to speak to Philly. “It has wires!” he shouted “It can’t have wires. There are no wire in the painting. The installation can’t have wires!” Philly tried to calm Lorenzo down, saying that the wires were extremely thin and could easily be hidden. But Lorenzo was having none of it.

In the end Philly agreed to scrap the original idea. The first clock was to be thrown out and the workshop retooled. Flexible batteries had come a long way over the years and you could build it into the screen sheet with only a slightly thicker film. Add in a simple processor in the sheet as well and you will have everything you need, nice and self-contained. Philly made sure to add some obscene references to Lorenzo’s mother while he explained the situation to the waiting technicians.

The refit and retooling was going smoothly for over three days when there was another phone call. It was Lorenzo asking “Philly! How long do these batteries last?” Philly had to think a little then replied “Not entirely sure. With these new Graphene-Lithium cells with the display set to ‘dim’ you should get at least two days on average.” Lorenzo was not pleased “Oh no! That is far too short. I need longer. What other batteries could you use?” Philly exhaled in frustration and said “For the size you want, that is the only way to go. You can’t get better performance. I’m sorry” The artist would not be silenced “But I need it to last indefinitely, on its own. What else can we do.”  Philly said that he would think about it, told the grumbling technicians to stop setting the equipment for batteries and headed to his office to think about what to do next.

The solution was elegant. Flexible solar cells on clothes and sprayed onto roofs were becoming increasingly popular. The new stuff could be printed on plastic just like the displays were. They had all the equipment they needed to do it, just some speciality materials and a little recalibration was required. Coupled with a smaller thin battery it would have enough power to run constantly, day or night, as long as you wanted. Lorenzo was happy, for now.

They were a month waiting for the new materials and to pass the time tried to do some work for other clients. It was tricky since so much equipment had been altered for the clocks, but they made do. The technicians were not happy though, the coffee-room had a dart board with Lorenzo’s face in the middle. Their aim was getting better apparently.

Philly and his men were starting to start making the new improved screens when there was another phone call. “Lorenzo again. Listen I have been thinking of locations for this and the best places would be out in deserts. Will this stuff be able to handle 120 Fahrenheit in direct sun?” Philly could feel himself deflating “I don’t think so; not for long. Are you sure you need to keep it in the desert? Wouldn’t an air-conditioned  room suffice?” Lorenzo scoffed and didn’t even answer the question before demanding “make it work!” and hanging up.

Heat proofing the screens required a slight redesign and changing some of the materials they were using, another long wait. The technicians were getting creative in their boredom. Pictures of the artist were getting photoshopped into various embarrassing and improbable pictures, including being part of an elephant’s rear-end, which found their way onto the coffee-room notice-board.

In the end the screens were eventually completed, thirty in all, two months later than originally planned, and five times over budget. Lorenzo was ecstatic, his new installation, out in the Arizona Desert became a tourist attraction famed across the country. A version went on tour, but the places it went had to be limited since it had to be kept at high temperatures or it wouldn’t work properly. He ended up paying Philly very well for his trouble, even including a little bonus for the technicians, which went a long way to repairing his reputation with them. Philly was also delighted with the patent he was able to file on the unique mixture of spray on solar cell and ultra thin battery. Negotiations with industry are ongoing.

Philly ended up going to see the installation at Lorenzo’s invitation about half a year later. He looked over the dropping, yet still working clocks and felt, nothing. He still didn’t get art. But he did realise one thing. Whatever other people think about art, they sure do go through a lot of effort to make it.