Great Expectations: Adam Chodzko sends artworks to B&Q, a pumping station and the Guildhall in Kent

By Ben Miller | 26 February 2015

An ancient treasure chest of exhibits on a journey through space and a shelf in a Kent B&Q are two tools of artist's new work in Kent

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On a dank February afternoon opposite a bus exchange in Chatham, rain drives at a large screen showing a video by Adam Chodzko, framed within the frontage of the town’s waterfront pumping station.

A mild optimist might hope for better weather in the coming months, but the grey gives a kind of gloomy gravitas to the installation’s opening hours in front of a car park, tools rendered in thin neon 3D lines shifting into focus.

Its public perception when potential viewers aren’t fleeing from angry skies should be more telling. At the conveniently more covered Guildhall Museum in Rochester, it transpires that Chodzko – who lives in Whitstable, but whose last solo exhibition in Kent was more than a decade ago – has created a slightly spooky homage to making, wonder and discovery, a constellation through darkness to the sound of creaking floorboards and a guiding, parental voice which sounds like it belongs to someone issuing advice through a mask while needing to clear their throat.

A photo of a large screen on a brown brick building
Chatham Pumping Station© Nigel Green
Its subject is the story and booty of the Seaton Tool Chest, a large wooden cabinet made by a son whose toolmaker father gave him a gift of 200 tools in 1796, which he used to create this immortal box for the implements to lie in, unused, for eternity.

The chest is considered by curators to be one of the museum’s most important artefacts, its unified contents making it much more precious than individual historic hand tools, which are relatively common.

Its reverence among trade researchers and historians saw it visit America during the 1990s, and its repeated study, drawn and redrawn and even turned into an online resource allowing users to pull apart and rebuild their own chest, has given it a life beyond Rochester, where it had a lucky escape from a fire during the 19th century.

But Chodzko has added another dimension to its travels: drawing on its inventory, which was partly inspired by a mid-18th century book combining science, navigation and Baptist beliefs, the artist has created Ark Eye – a spaceship which, as he imagines it, fell from the stratosphere and into the River Medway last year, carrying the tale of the tools with it.

The Ark had been orbiting the sun, each tool carrying its own separate gravitational pull. Twisted strings and suspended spheres represent the solar system and the motion of the earth as these objects come to life.

A photo of a large, wide elegant brown wooden toolbox full of tools
Cabinet-maker Joseph Seaton gave the tool chest to his son, Benjamin, in 1796© Nigel Green
Their maker intended them to become virtual, the video suggests. But they’ve also altered or been misunderstood across the ages, disintegrating and ultimately defying the comprehension of modern-day scanners with their imperfect curves and edges.

Bringing the inheritance theme up to date, the film will be screening at a school, in the domestic residence of a traditional sign-writer and his graphic-designer daughter and in the vast DIY warehouse that is the Gillingham branch of B&Q, where the Ark itself has been placed.

At uncalculating first glance it seems an imprecise octagon of differently-hued wooden panels, and its lack of contextualisation – it sits on a shelf between boxes of woodsaws and draught-excluding door seals – baffles at least one curious shopper.

The idea is of pure joinery, coming together and forming connections between materials and methods which have disappeared, as well as the tangible, virtual and supernatural.

But it’s really about wonder: the point, a voice emphasises in the video, is that the young recipient of the box was resisting his allotted destiny as a joiner – although it speaks, in a wry twist of some relief to the parents of some of the schoolkids who will see it, of the child’s enduring love for his father.

A photo of a sculpted wooden octagon on a shelf in a DIY store
Adam Chodzko's handiwork at B&Q in Gillingham© Nigel Green
This love, in fact, extends to drawing a line between past and future, despite admiring this handiest of gift collections. The tools, too, are given voices in the video: characterised for a generation newly appreciating craftsmanship and the lives of objects treasured in shadowy museum corners.

  • Adam Chodzko – Great Expectations is at the Waterfront Pumping Station, Chatham until April 24 2015; B&Q, Gillingham and the Guildhall Museum, Rochester until September. Visit the project online for more.

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