19 September–7 November 2015
The original metre was born out of the French revolution, which promised nothing less than equality. Not the 1+1 = 2 kind, but the more commonly interpreted social equality. Still any sense of equality requires a means of measure and, coincidently or not, a group of scientists and mathematicians were commissioned by the French Academy to decide upon the length of the metre. After that, the first prototype - a titanium bar - was made to measure and multiplied.
Anders Clausen’s show consists of multiple reproductions and reinterpretations of the second prototypic metre bar that was designed in 1867. Clausen displays vertical, horizontal, and even seemingly reflected reproductions of these bars.
After the metre was established, physical manifestations of its length were installed in public places, like the one displayed outside of the gallery window. The public metres of that time can perhaps be likened to the public WiFi of today. One could think that it is the accessibility of these technologies that is responsible for their success. Both the metre and the internet have created a total dependence. We now have a hard time imagining what people did before they knew if their metre was really a metre or they could check it on the internet.
However, the precision and strength of these metre bars on display is a reminder of the scientific, social, and political engineering it takes to establish such a status quo. In fact, the ultimate success of the metre is owed in large part to Napoleon, who instituted measurement reforms that eventually led to the adoption of the metric system across Europe and finally world wide. Similarly, the internet was developed by scientists who simply needed to share collective research data, but its wide availability and free services today are due to its ability to manipulate the masses.
Clausen’s deviation from the original design in some of the metre models reminds us of the inevitable, even if always controlled, shifts in any set of standards. Throughout its short 200 year lifetime, the rigid metre has itself changed lengths multiple times. From the first metre which was defined as a fraction of the earth’s meridian through Paris, to today’s metre which is distance covered by light in a fraction of a second. Flexibility and updates are key in any long lasting regime.
Together with the metre bars is a collection of manipulated feathers staggered on the walls. They come in a range of colours, textures, metals, shapes and sizes. Standing in the centre of the room, on the same axis as the feathers, is a final meter bar as if to challenge you to measure up. But how could you…?
Text: Kristin Shaw