Autoxylopyrocycloboros, 2006

Simon Starling
Autoxylopyrocycloboros, 2006
38 medium format transparencies, slide projector, plinth, carrying case
Installation view


Autoxylopyrocycloboros documents a performance or, perhaps better, an action that took place on, and ultimately in, the waters of Loch Long on the West Coast of Scotland. I was commissioned by Cove Park, a residency programme that is situated on the hills overlooking the Loch, to make a new work and what I came up with is in many ways a response to the very particular local situation and its history.

Loch Long is part of the Clyde Estuary and as such is where steamboats were first built and used successfully. It is also an extremely deep sea loch, in places as deep as 85m, and consequently became home to Britain’s Trident submarine base at Coulport and Faslane. There is a sci-fi-style, hollowed-out mountain which contains dozens of nuclear warheads. With the introduction of the nuclear submarine base in the 1970s came the peace camp, which has for years doggedly kept the question of the existence of the submarine base in the press, holding demonstrations, campaigning and at times just being a niggling thorn-in-the-side of the Royal Navy. Loch Long and its surrounding countryside is also an extremely beautiful part of Scotland. So it’s in this context that I decided to make a kind of slap-stick, self-defeating voyage using a restored wooden steam launch.

In 2003 I took my class from the Staedelschule to visit Cove Park and we were given a tour of the submarine base at neighbouring Faslane. On this tour we were shown a video presentation about the base and its workings; this presentation, however, included a number of sketches from British TV situation comedy, – Only Fools and Horses, that kind of thing. It struck me afterwards that these rather lame attempts to win over an otherwise rather sceptical audience, were in fact somehow extremely poignant. These simple slap- stick moments were, in some rather touching sense, the only way to deal with the implications of this crazy world that we were all glimpsing at first hand for the first and hopefully the last time. They were, on one level, perhaps an existential cry for help from this rather awkward naval officer, who had spent large chunks of his adult life under water in a weapon of mass destruction. It became clear to me that any attempt to deal with the "site" of Cove Park would have to involve large doses of slap-stick. I started to think back over those rather violent early cartoons I saw many of as a child - that scene when a cat or dog or duck or whoever cuts a Gordon Matta- Clark style hole in the floor, only to find right they are in the middle of the section that plummets to the basement below. These thoughts of painting myself into a corner, coupled with my sketchy knowledge of steamboat history on the Clyde, led me to Autoxylopyrocycloboros. In October I set out on a self-defeating voyage in a 23ft-long steam launch around the waters of Loch Long. The boat gradually, piece by wooden piece, was fed to the steam engine’s boiler until, inevitably, it disappeared into the submarine infested depths.

This project was part of Sharjah Biennial 8.