Mark Wallinger

Part of Bring Into Being. Entry to the exhibition is included in your House ticket.

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Chiswick House and Gardens presents British Summer Time, 2021 a new artwork by Mark Wallinger. The work consists of a human sundial in the grounds and, on the hour, the sound of a music box playing a familiar waltz accompanied by drifting bubbles.

Image: Mark Wallinger

In astronomy, an ‘analemma’ is a diagram showing the changing position of the Sun in the sky as seen from a fixed location on Earth at the same mean solar time.

Wallinger has designed an analemmatic sundial – a type of horizontal sundial that has a vertical ‘gnomon’ (the part of the sun dial that casts shadows) and hour markers positioned in an elliptical pattern around a central ‘pavement.’ The latitude of its location determines the placement of the hour markers on the ellipse and the declination of the sun determines the daily gnomon position. For British Summer Time these have been precisely calculated to the co-ordinates of Chiswick House. Here the visitor becomes the gnomon and the shadow they cast points towards the correct time of day.

On the hour, bubbles will drift across the grounds accompanied by a music box recording of the tin pan alley hit, I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles, a song for dreamers from a 1918 Broadway musical that was soon adopted by West Ham United Football Club as their song.

‘I’m forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air,
They fly so high, nearly reach the sky,
Then like my dreams, they fade and die’*

Fortune is perennially in hiding, according to the lyrics, but the close season is the time to dream, although ‘Vivere memento’ (Remember to live). Sundial makers have been apt to include mottos wistfully expressive of transience and mortality. Written on another sundial, ‘Vita fugit, sicut umbra (Life passes like the shadow).

Just as clocks, hourglasses and bubbles are typical elements in Vanitas paintings, designed to remind us of our mortality, the transience of our shadows is a presage of the end of our tenancy as their owners. But [after lockdown] it is a joyful move nevertheless from the claustrophobic interiors of memento mori to the philosophical outdoors represented by the Exedra of Chiswick House Gardens.

In the UK the longed-for summer is too brief, ‘I only tell of sunny hours,’ another motto reads. As the light from the sun, having travelled some 93 million miles, strikes us at an angle such that we can tell the time (BST), the lengthening shadows of a summer evening invite thoughts of our connectedness and fragility in the face of the cosmos. As another sundial states, ‘Bulla est vita humana’ (Human life is a bubble).

Wallinger’s artwork invites reflection on the various cycles of time from the expansive to the fleeting, and serves as a reminder that as humans we are often reconciling with differing perceptions of scale. As another motto reads, ‘Lente hora, celeriter anni (An hour passes slowly, but the years go by quickly).

The title British Summer Time and the playful aspects of the bubbles and music are a celebration of the summer months and the joy of being outside in the sunshine. While the fragility of the bubbles and ephemerality of the shadows act as a reminder to take the time to appreciate the moment.


* Lyrics by John Kellete / Jaan Kenbrovin

British Summer Time is generously supported by Links Signs.