This work is a set of three annotated technical specifications for a proposed second hand for the Great Clock in the Elizabeth Tower at the Palace of Westminster, London (often mistakenly referred to as Big Ben), as well as eight drawings, each depicting a fragment of the hand at full scale. The three technical designs were produced in ink on white tracing paper and are displayed in glazed frames made from light coloured wood. Each focuses on a different part of the proposed addition to the Great Clock: a cross-shaped element to be placed at the centre of the clock face, the hand itself, and a ‘centre collet’ – a type of clamp that holds the parts together. These drawings are each presented within a template that resembles a design specification form: most of the space in each drawing, from the top down to the lower margin, is taken up by designs of the parts from various angles and perspectives, but each also includes standardised printed text and there are several boxes along the bottom for information such as the materials and processes to be used in making the object. The eight to-scale drawings of the second hand are executed in a combination of graphite and either charcoal or black crayon on lightweight white wove paper. When placed together sequentially in a single line, they collectively depict the entire second hand. Unlike the three schematic designs, these drawings incorporate shading and suggest some effects of the light, making them look more like artistic renderings.
This work was made in 2005 by the German artist Andreas Slominski, who produced it for his solo exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery in London in that same year. Slominski commissioned the English clock manufacturing company Thwaites & Reed to produce all eleven of the drawings. Founded in 1740, Thwaites & Reed claims to be the oldest clockmaker in the world, and the firm has maintained all of the clocks at the Palace of Westminster for more than thirty years. The company’s name is printed in the bottom right corner of each of the technical designs and inscribed onto the back of one of the shaded drawings, and the name of an individual draughtsman is also written on the three designs, but it is not easily legible.
Although the title of the work is descriptive, it makes the error common to both tourists and Londoners of referring to the tower as ‘Big Ben’, which is in fact an alternative name for the Great Bell inside the clock tower, rather than the tower itself. The Elizabeth Tower, which contains Big Ben and the Great Clock, is among the most widely recognisable icons of London (and the United Kingdom more generally) and it seems likely that Slominski made use of it for this work as a response to the location of his exhibition. Given the historic status of the Elizabeth Tower, it was highly improbable that Slominski’s proposal would ever be realised, and the group of drawings could therefore be considered a playful set of ideas rather than a serious proposal. Many of Slominski’s other works are performance-based pieces in which he and his co-performers carry out pointless tasks in needlessly convoluted ways, and a similar approach is seen in Plans for a Second Hand of the Great Clock of Big Ben, in which professional designers have expended significant effort on an unrealisable project.
The eight shaded drawings present a fragmented representation of a single object across a number of separate sheets of paper, and while this fracturing may be due to the size of the hand at full-scale, which could not be fitted onto a single sheet, it may also reflect the way in which time is partitioned into discrete units (hours, seconds and minutes) through a clock’s mechanism. Andrew Graham-Dixon has also observed that the suggested addition of the much faster-moving second hand in this work is a humorous reflection on the status of time in the contemporary metropolis, calling it ‘a wrily [sic] detached observer’s comment on the accelerating pace of life in London’ (Graham-Dixon 2005, accessed 6 November 2014).
Andrew Graham-Dixon, ‘Andreas Slominski at the Serpentine 2005’, Sunday Telegraph, 8 May 2005, http://www.andrewgrahamdixon.com/archive/readArticle/461, accessed 6 November 2014.
Andreas Slominski, exhibition catalogue, Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt 2006.
Andreas Slominski, exhibition catalogue, Sammlung Goetz, Munich 2010.
Supported by Christie’s.