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Through The Looking Glass
an audiovisual installation by Richard Tomlinson with Music by Daniel Birch
Through The Looking Glass is designed to encourage the visitor to contemplate the fragility of life on Earth and
understand that we, at this brief moment in history, are merely its custodians. The Earth has existed for 4.5
billion years, human civilisation is a very late-breaking development. This artwork allows the time travelling
visitor to glimpse at our collective past and comprehend a vast expanse of time. There is an underlying
environmental message within the work, however this message is not conveyed via a list of lessons in how to care
better for our environment. Instead, the aim is to encourage the visitor to consider their great fortune, against
overwhelming odds, that their precious and delicate home happens to exist in the habitable zone*.
‘Through the Looking Glass’ refers both to the idea of a magical lantern that projects images of life through the
ages and references the idea of the looking glass as a mirror, inviting the visitor to reflect on how their actions
impact on the Earth.
The conventional method of presenting moving image sequences is within a rectangular frame. However, for this
project, there was an interest in breaking from this cinematic norm. The idea of presenting a series of
rotating spheres seemed more in-keeping with conveying notions such as: totality, wholeness, the Self, the
infinite, eternity and timelessness. As the project developed more and more spheres were digitally constructed
and something sculptural, rather than cinematic, started to emerge.
Children and young people’s voices can be heard throughout the installation. The voices describe our collective
history, from the big bang singularity to the dawn of the modern age. The script is not one you would
necessarily associate with children and young people, the language is sometimes quite technical and
scientific. However, it was important that the visitor entered a space in which children and young people were
talking to the adults in the room, not the other way around.
The installation includes a companion piece produced by pupils from Minerva Primary School and Holy Trinity
Primary School in Taunton and Brent Knoll Primary School. Participants were given an opportunity to make very
close-up photographs of natural objects. The participants were able to see details, shapes and patterns in their
pictures they could not see with the naked eye. This, in turn, inspired the production of the creative audio
descriptions featured in the installation.
Somerset based composer Daniel Birch produced sounds and ambient music for the installation. Daniel states:
My process for making the sounds for Through The Looking Glass involved implementing for the first time in
a score of mine a device called PlantWave. The PlantWave detects slight electrical variations in a plant via two
electrodes placed on the leaves. I then used the plant’s electrical variations to play a variety of sounds I had
created from my voice as well as electronic and organic sampled instruments.
Many thanks to: Minerva Primary School, Holy Trinity Primary School, Brent Knoll Primary School, Amal Khreisheh
from South West Heritage Trust for allowing access to the South West Heritage Centre for hours worth of
photography, Somerset Youth Theatre who supported the process of recording the voices of young people,
Bodhi Birch for lending her voice to the project, Daniel Birch for his inventive approach to creating sounds and
ambient music, Somerset Film at The Engine Room for their ongoing support and provision of equipment and,
last but by no means least, to the Garfield Weston Foundation and Taunton Brewhouse for providing me with
such an amazing opportunity.
*The definition of “habitable zone” is the distance from a star at which liquid water could exist on orbiting
planets’ surfaces. Habitable zones are also known as Goldilocks’ zones, where conditions might be just right –
neither too hot nor too cold – for life.
released October 7, 2022
Album photograph by Richard Tomlinson