This sculpture-performance, involved an artist working with a bricklayer to construct a representation of a watchtower. Taking a site-sensitive approach, the form was inspired by the Panopticon that once stood near by, surveilling the Millbank Prison in the nineteenth century. But there was a twist to the plan. Through building and unbuilding, the artist and bricklayer would construct the curved form, only to remove the bricks from one side and use them to build up the other. Like a snake eating its own tail, this was to be an oroboros demonstration of ingestion and rebirth.
The outcome of this recycling was to be unlikely, confounding the build’s watchtower origins and associations. Instead of surveillance from above, this continually shifting spiral would track like a searchlight, exposing new views of its surroundings as it closed off others. The seemingly futile cyclicality of the artist’s and bricklayer’s collaboration would produce value through reflexive making and physical labour. This resides firmly in the phenomenological experience of learning through doing—becoming through practice.
10,000 hours is often recited as the level of repetition needed to ‘master’ a technique and become an ‘expert’. However, the Florida State University psychologist, Anders Ericsson, whose research spawned this rule-of-thumb, has said that such benefit does not come from mechanical repetition alone. Instead it is embodied responsively, as you adjust your execution recursively, developing a feel: a tweak here, a correction there. It is recalibration like this, through knowledge transacted between bricklayer and artists, that featured here.
The Bricklayer and the Artist explored how artists can learn from the construction industry in an interdisciplinary move. Like many experimental projects, however, the reality on the day did not quite manifest in the beautiful form as described above. The short time-frame of only eight hours in combination with the complex personalities of those involved reminded that these ambitious projects are often much harder in practice than they seem on paper.