Orrery for Landscape, Sinew and Serendipity: Wolverhampton exhibition

Orrery for Landscape, Sinew and Serendipity will be exhibited alongside the Wolverhampton School of Art MA show taking place at Wolverhampton Art Gallery between the 1st and 9th of October. Full details here: http://www.wlv.ac.uk/mashow/

Below is the text I wrote to accompany the moving Orrery (playing back sections of four different rides) and the audio of conversations between myself of Hannah Nicklin, Emily Chappell and Tina Tylen.

Orrery detail

Orrery for Landscape, Sinew and Serendipity is an ongoing project that asks questions about the physical and emotional experiences of cycling, the physical and emotional experiences of being the person left at home, and the frictions of data visualisation.

Various live tracking services exist that enable you to ‘watch’ cyclists as they make their journeys. Usually this involves a web page showing a map, a marker icon representing the person pedalling and maybe a line showing the route they have taken so far. Known as ‘dot-watching’, following the progress of riders in this way is highly addictive and—along with social media—is a big part of the audience’s experience of events such as the Transcontinental Race (Belgium to Turkey via various mountainous checkpoints) or the Tour Divide (Canada to Mexico along the Rocky Mountains) as well as individuals making record attempts.

Working from the starting point that the tools we use tend to influence the way we think and talk about things, Nikki has made the Orrery as an alternative to dot-watching in order to use it as a prop for conversations about the tools we use already and how different tools might open up different avenues of thought.

A physical object with elements that are raised, rotated, rattled and illuminated, the Orrery is driven by the same GPS data as the map-based tracking websites, but rather than showing us where the rider is, how far they have gone and how fast they are moving, it instead conveys something of the moment-to-moment experience of being on the bike. Is the rider struggling up a hill, experiencing an exhilarating descent, battling a headwind or immersed in the arriving dawn?

Here the Orrery is accompanied by audio from conversations between Nikki and Hannah Nicklin, Emily Chappell and Tina Tylen.

Last year Hannah competed in an Ironman distance triathlon (a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile cycle and a 26.2 mile run). Nikki and others gathered online with bated breath, hitting refresh on the results page and waiting for news that she’d made it around the course after some 14 hours.

Emily is known for doing big adventurous bike rides and for writing about them. After an aborted attempt in 2015, this year she completed the Transcontinental Race in 13 days, 10 hours and 28 minutes. Her father’s spreadsheets of her rides form a counterpoint to Emily’s experiences of dot-watching and of being the dot that is watched.

Tina is the mother—and the support crew—for her daughter Kajsa as she attempts to break the women’s year record by cycling more than 29,603 miles before the end of 2016. Tina watches Kajsa’s dot to gauge if all is well …and to check if there’s enough time to nip out to the supermarket before she gets back.

Inevitably this is not a project about data or electronics or even bikes, but about connections between people.

The Orrery is replaying sections from the following rides:
Mark Chappell // Wind Farm and Wild Dogs. (1 hour 25 minutes)
Kajsa Tylen // Starting Out. (1 hour)
Emily Chappell // The Gradient and the Effort and Everything That’s Gone Before. (1 hour)
Hannah Nicklin // Horrible Horrible Rain and Wind. Freezing. (1 hour)

Orrery detail

Orrery detail

Orrery detail

Orrery detail

Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

Also with thanks to:

  • Mike Cummins, Jez Higgins and Kim Wall for programming skills.
  • Phil Smith (Enginuity) and uMake for fabrication facilities.
  • Emily Chappell, Mark Chappell, Hannah Nicklin, Tina Tylen, Kajsa Tylen and everyone else who has contributed brains and/or brawn to the project.