You know about Chronophage, the weird and wonderful clock/creature created by John Taylor that has adorned the corner of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, for the last couple of years, but you don’t know its younger brother yet. These monsters are multiplying.
Chronophage means ‘eater of time’, telling of the birth of time, and its devourment. It tells of death, with a chime of chains and a coffin lid. It is mesmerising, and puzzling in its precision and apparent randomness, and its constant movement makes it seem to be alive. The Corpus original has a creature at its apogee, a hybrid with elements of a grasshopper but also of a hornet for its wings, a viper fish or its vicious jaws and teeth, a coelacanth’s eyes and a wasp’s sting.
The mechanism, though, is a development from John Harrison’s world-changing mid-18th century chronometer, the watch that allowed navigators to chart longitude and so avoid crashing sideways into things.
“The critical thing in a clock is the escapement between pendulum and the driving mechanism” John tells me, with infinite patience. The escapement was controlled by sliding levers which created friction. Harrison designed a mechanism with rocking levers that made no friction – the first mechanism in the world which requires no lubrication, and the most accurate clock in the world for 150 years. Harrison’s rocking levers, touching the escape wheel on just two precise points to move the escapement, seemed reminiscent of the legs of a grasshopper, and so it became “the grasshopper escapement”. Ta-da!
“Ninety-nine people out of a thousand don’t know how a clock works, it’s all hidden away. My clock turns it inside out, with the escape wheel much larger than any before and it’s a part of what you see, moving at a pace controlled by the Chronophage’s feet.”
But this is Chronophage II, known as the Midsummer because it was unveiled for the first time on Midsummer’s Day this year at the cut-class, 24-carat Masterpiece Fair in Chelsea (strictly no photographs, which is why this stolen snap of mine is a bit blurry). And the grasshopper has become something else.
John doesn’t work alone, of course. There’s a team of trusted engineers, led by Stewart Huxley; designers, like Gary Moore; craftspeople, such as the enamellist Joan Mackarell. And there are, of course, artists, in particular, there is Matt Sanderson, a sculptor more used to street art who conceived the, well, the thing on the top, no-one really knows what it is, especially Matt, except that it’s thoroughly nasty, with golden fangs, claws and a thoroughly unpleasant look in its eye. “As a public artist I want to create theatrical spectacles” he says, “moving street theatre that changes, not just on the hour but every second”.
And the team will stay together, because interest in the first piece has been so great they have decided to open for commissions. “Each one will be different, each one is a work of art, each one is a development of John’s original inspiration and each one will have the team’s creative thoughts in it” Matt says. “I can’t repeat anything, and if you ask me to make another Corpus Christi Clock you’ll have to find someone else to copy it, because I can’t. It needs to evolve”. Well, the Midsummer isn’t another Corpus Christi Clock, and it’s available, yours for a mere £2 million.
Or if you’ve got your own monster in mind, the Chronophage team will work to order…
Even the most dignified of art galleries are not above our sort of art these days, and the Ferens in Hull is no exception. Their exhibition, Manic Mechanics, Moving Sculpture, on until September 5, is a series of pieces put together by Johnny White and Amanda Wray from odds ends, like an kitchen mixer, fire extinguishers and even an exercise bike.
Be sure not to miss the show of the village toymaker himself, Ron Fuller, which opens at Craftco in Southwold on August 28.
And if you’re in the Highlands stalking the grouse, there’s still time to break your Purdeys and catch the end of Maria and Michael Start’s show at Nairn Museum, drawn from their collection of the House of Automata.
CMT, of course, has something happening at any time somewhere in the world, and the latest adventure is in Tel Aviv, at the Eretz Israel Museum. “The people, animals, and diverse creatures that come to life and move by pressing a button are operated by cogwheels, cranks, rubber bands. and wooden sticks, in the age-old tradition of accurate manual mechanical instruments”, says the press release – 40 pieces in all, made by the likes of Paul Spooner, Ron Fuller, Peter Markey and Matt Smith. Here’s an update from the museum’s director, Zachi Becker: “I am pleased to say the exhibition is very successful. We have positive press coverage, and the visitors are very happy with it. Since the opening on July 12 we have had over 12,000 visitors, and hope to reach 20,000 by the end of the run. Only three of the machines are troublesome, but we manage to carry on…” Ahem, well, this is mechanics as art, you know, perfect isn’t part of the ethos… On the whole – a great exhibition! It’s on until October 10.