Wednesday, February 15, 2006

[Class War Archives] Greenwich Degree Zero

from Greenwich Degree Zero - Rod Dickinson and Tom McCarthy

On the afternoon of February 15th, 1894, a French anarchist named Martial Bourdin was killed when the bomb he was carrying detonated. The explosion took place on the slope beneath the Royal Observatory in London's Greenwich Park, and it was generally assumed that his intention had been to blow up this building, symbol of science - "the sacrosanct fetish of the day''(1) - and the place from which all time throughout the British Empire and the world was measured and regulated.

In Greenwich Degree Zero, Rod Dickinson and Tom McCarthy re-imagine Bourdin's act as a successful attack on the Observatory. They do so by infiltrating and twisting the media of Bourdin's time: creating an early film shot on a hand-cranked Victorian cinematic camera depicting the burning Observatory moments after the attack, and reprinting existing 1894 newspaper reports and anarchist literature 'doctored' to fit their version of events. The resulting pseudo-archival installation reports an event that did not quite happen, relocating the genuine public outrage and hysteria about the threat of anarchist terror that prevailed in the 1890s in this negative space of non-event.

Victorian anarchism was both intimately tied in with the avant-garde in art and literature and a popular mass movement. Bourdin's death brought on a plethora of speculative stories in both the mainstream and underground media. London had become a haven for foreign anarchists, and many on the Left believed that Bourdin had been duped into killing himself by a double-agent who wanted to help the passage of Lord Salisbury's Aliens Bill (which urged a tightening of asylum laws) through parliament by instigating an 'outrage'. Rather than try to establish the 'truth', Dickinson and McCarthy use a form of studied repetition to work backwards, right back to degree zero: of time, of mediation and of terror.

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