Massive Objects in Space (inc “Slipstream” by Richard Wilson & Csi/Hull)

This post looks at the experience/reaction to both “art objects” and “non-objects” of a non-human/hyper-human scale, of an observer and the lines between artistic intent/manufactured “beauty” and “accidental awe” through existential confrontation of our own true/relative scale.

As well as a anecdotal record of the experience of seeing Richard Wilson and partners large scale art installation, “Slipstream”.


First some definitions and terms.


/fiˌnäməˈnäləjē/ – Noun
  1. The science of phenomena as distinct from that of the nature of being.
  2. An approach that concentrates on the study of consciousness and the objects of direct experience.


/ô/ – Noun

  1. A feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder: “they gazed in awe at the small mountain of diamonds”.

– Verb

  1. Inspire with awe: “they were both awed by the vastness of the forest”.


/ˈäntik/ – Adjective

  1. Of or relating to entities and the facts about them; relating to real as opposed to phenomenal existence.


/ˈdaːzaɪn/ German pronunciation:

  1. is a German word which literally means being there (German: da – there; sein – being) often translated in English with the word “existence”. It is a fundamental concept in the existential philosophy of Martin Heidegger particularly in his magnum opus Being and Time. Heidegger uses the expression Dasein to refer to the experience of “being” that is peculiar to human beings.
  2. The word Dasein has been used by several philosophers before Heidegger, most notably Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, with the meaning of human “existence” or “presence”. It is derived from da-sein, which literally means being-there/there-being, though Heidegger was adamant that this was an inappropriate translation of Dasein. In German, Dasein is the vernacular term for “existence”, as in I am pleased with my existence (ich bin mit meinem Dasein zufrieden). According to Heidegger, however, it must not be mistaken for a subject, that is to say, something definable in terms of consciousness or a self. Heidegger was adamant about this distinction, which carried on Nietzsche’s critique of the subject. Dasein, as a human being that is constituted by its temporality, illuminates and interprets the meaning of Being in Time. Heidegger chose this term as a synonym for “human entity” in order to emphasize the critical importance “Being” has for our understanding and interpretation of the world.


plural of /ˈqua-le/ – noun

  1. A quality or property as perceived or experienced by a person.


Fabrication Preview

Hull it seems plays its culture and commitment to the arts (and art in general) cards close to its chest at times… the making of Blackpool’s lauded Comedy Carpet happening here in Hull being a whispered point of pride.

So to it seems, the manufacture of “the longest permanent sculpture in europe”, one that is to be delivered to and installed in the central court of London’s Heathrow, Terminal 2 ready for this August.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend a preview of the artwork at Csi/Hull ‘s workshops (Thursday 18th) where the sculpture is being manufactured, and along with a small group of other local creatives, take a look at the process inviolved in bringing a vast project like this to fruition.

It was great to be back in that vast workshop space again (I’d worked in this kind of environment before when working in the Themed Attraction industry), but was still blown away by the scale of the project…

Slipstream 00

Wilson‘s massive, possibly near genetic relations/abstracted quasi-alien expansions of the “aeronautic abandonment” installations of Fiona Banner and the ‘truth to materials’ sculpture of Joanna Mowbry.

It was like looking at a real version of something from the concept images of vast vehicles (as created by concept artists Sparth and Ian McQue).

Parts of the sculpture, segmented and turned or raised on jacks and props looked like alien crafts aerofoils, bulheads and fuselages (and why wouldn’t it, flight was the inspiration for the concept).

The “flight”/aeronautic roots of the design holding firm despite any abstraction via the original concept.

“…the twisted shape of the massive artwork takes its form from the Zivko Edge 540 flown by world champion air racer British pilot Paul Bonhomme”.

Which you can clearly see in this early sketch and these explanatory wire-frames

“…the piece, estimated to be the size of one A380 Airbus airplane weighing seventy-seven tons, will seem to hover six to twenty meters above the ground of the bustling airport passage point, suspended from four roof support columns. ‘slipstream’ is comprised of 1.1 kilometer of 1.5 meter aluminum roll, equaling 1,650 square meters”.

…and which I loved – the representational element still being so clear.

quotes taken from –

If you can’t get that straight in your head, think back to those scales you where assumed to know off by heart in your (pre-Jurrasic Park) youth when trying to conceptualise “walking beneath” dinosaurs.

Richard Wilson’s sculpture is approximately the length of eight double-decker buses (there was a visual to this effect one one of the tables in the studio which made me smile, as it reminded me of the images in my childhood books on dinosaurs – all of which compared the scale of those creatures to buses and/or houses – laughs)…

It was also great to be able to sketch whilst there… a rare chance to document in drawing such a process.


I’d like to thank Csi’s Martin and the guys for allowing us access to the project, and the chance to sketch a little whilst trying to take in the sheer scale of the task ahead for them.

Slipstream Sketches

All of which got me thinking about discussions we’d had at some of our MA sessions… and Phenomenology.

“Phenomenological Experience” versus simple “Awe”

A caveman (or anyone who has not met with, and so been desensitised to, the contemporary urban landscape) if exposed to the experience of approaching the facade of Notre Dame and even entering that vast space within, would experience, a highly individualised variant of this feeling.

The building was design purposefully to provoke this sense of “awe” so that a humbling confrontation with such alien scale could perhaps be confused, parsed, mistaken for a confrontation with the essence of ones diety; strengthening personal faith and engendering humility in the face of that cowing existential experience.

That said, one would perhaps feel some of the same “awe” if confronted with a GIANT DOUGHNUT in Queens Gardens or any other local park or street and that clearly is not about design or a sensibilities related to any concepts relating to beauty or spirituality for that matter.

It’s primarily about scale… in particular anthropo-centric human scale versus that which is not.

What one of my students might once have described as “bigness” whilst trying to articulate the vertiginous, monolithic impact of a particular example of modernist architecture she had been photographing.

Heidegger suggests through his critique of the definition of Dasein, that layered human experience and the cerebral internal rescaling of experiences through anthropocentric cognitive bias causes phenomena such as “logical” systems and beliefs that obscure Dasein’s nature from itself, causing a false experience.

Confrontation, particularly accidental or unexpected, with existential “Awe” (a phenomena I’m utterly convinced is related to the at times existential fit inducing concept of “hyper-human scale”) can shatter this obfuscation; so returning one to a true, truer Dasein, human experience.

The Concept of AWE – i.e. mentally trying to conceive (saftey checks removed) of the vastness of space (or some other concept), or being confronted with something that reminds you of it, can bring on a similar feeling or quale to a bout of vertigo.

Like imagining yourself, insignificant, on a spinning liquid filled rock, whirling through a boundless universe where galaxies clash, and suns are born, burn out and die… or just “being lost in space… with no real purpose (Feynman)”.

And I have to say, dissecting it in no way stops it from still being pretty cool as an experience… so long as you are open to that.


Ian McQue – Official Blog – Follow him on Twitter

Sparth – Official Site

Heideggarian Terminology

~ by hesir on April 26, 2013.

One Response to “Massive Objects in Space (inc “Slipstream” by Richard Wilson & Csi/Hull)”

  1. […] may have also missed what a great opportunity THIS was for me – Slipstream – quick drawings of Europe’s largest ever free hanging […]

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