Artist’s Statement: In his own words…Bedwyr Williams talks about looping a soundtrack to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde inside a weather station designed by Robert Louis Stevenson’s father.
© Bedwyr Williams
“So what you see is what looks like a weather station and that’s made out of bits of louvred wood, painted white on a stand. Most people would call them weather stations but they’re actually called Stevenson Screens.
Now the Stevenson Screen is designed to give a thermometer a location where it’s not duly affected by wind or rain or sun. So it measures average temperature without, you know…like, wind temperature can spoil it.
I’ve got a slight preoccupation with manmade objects that seem to have more significance than they actually do. So, like a beehive, you know the WBC beehives that look like little pagodas? They grow up in sections and I built one at Wysing Arts maybe two years ago, which was really tall in scale, like a skyscraper.
And the weather station has the same kind of thing. It’s got a really workaday purpose, but actually it looks like it almost could be a religious prop or something to put an icon in.
So I did some research into the weather station and you have a big scene of people who monitor the weather at home and pass the data on to the met office. But they’re always disagreeing about how the thing should be painted. Should the legs be white or black? How far should it be off the ground?
It’s so interesting isn’t it that people should do that. It’s so strange. It doesn’t have like the buzz of astronomy, it’s just really keeping an eye on the weather. I got one of these guys to build one for me. They cost £700 if they’re from a proper shop. This guy did it for me for £50, all handmade.
And this device was invented by Robert Louis Stevenson’s father and Robert Louis Stevenson’s father was a Scottish civil engineer who didn’t approve of his son’s career choice. I think Robert spent a lot of time at sea and lived in a tepee, something like that, in the South Seas in a sarong.
And it occurred to me as a father you try to give your children an upbringing that has exposure to the outside world, but not undue exposure. So like a Stevenson Screen you try to nurture them but not cosset them and I thought it was interesting that this guy tried to alter his son’s career but failed.
But then his son you know ended up writing these amazing books that were really about the human condition. I just thought it was interesting that two career paths, of father and son, would have diverged.
Because mostly, famous fathers and sons would do the same thing: Evelyn Waugh and Auberon Waugh, Martin Amis and Kingsley Amis. What if Martin Amis was a magician or a TV presenter?
The soundtrack’s from a Frederic March film, which is from the 30s and it’s the same clip which Douglas Gordon has used. And he’s used the footage not the sound and slowed the transformation right down. But for me, I was less interested in the clip. I was more interested in the story. And that was my favourite transition in a film.
And I think people misread this as a horror story. But it’s not a horror story. It’s about the human condition. I come from like a Methodist background so I like this idea of taking a potion which allows you to be an anti-version of yourself. And I think maybe being an artist is like that, like it gives you licence to say things to people you wouldn’t normally say.”
- Bedwyr Williams’ Stevenson Screen can be seen in his show at Ikon, Birmingham, until July 8 2012. Admission free. Open 11am-6pm Tuesday to Sunday.