In 1792, Napoleon tasked two French astronomers to traverse an arc inscribed on the surface of the Earth and determine a new universal standard — le mètre-étalon; the metre. The pair travelled the length of the Meridian arc from Dunkerque to Barcelona; surveying both land and sky to measure the Earth’s curvature. They defined the metre as a ‘natural’ standard: one-ten-millionth of the distance from the North Pole to the Equator.
Throughout 2018, I will honour le mètre-étalon by staging a performative walk along the meridian. The walk, entitled étalon, will retrace the original route — recapturing the metre’s original tactility. The journey will span 1,400 km and entail 100 days of walking, surveying and scientific measurement. This act of homage, endurance and absurdity is a study of both the length and the lengths taken by science in order to establish a standard and how these standards can be examined and eschewed in the pursuit of art.
Walking, by design, infers time and motion as experienced on a human scale. It can reduce a formidable task to the simplest of human gestures: the positing of one foot in front of the other. Through this act, I intend to embody the metre, allowing the imperceptible arc of the Earth to curve beneath my feet.
I have invited a group of artists, writers and scientists to accompany me, undertaking sections of the walk as a continuous ‘relay’. My companions will be engaged with various artistic, scientific and surveying tasks, generating a distinct body of work that represents our shared experience. This framework will demonstrate the strength and ambition of Australian practitioners within the arts and sciences — promoting diverse female voices to counter the masculine framework often entrenched within scientific discourse and providing a female perspective distinctly absent from historical narratives of scientific discovery.
The unique physical and temporal requirements of étalon simultaneously activate a diverse range of artistic practices. étalon is a live durational performance, an online platform, a performance archive, a set of collaborations as well as a physical object (a new ‘metre’ bar defined by the performative action). Further outcomes, including national and international exhibitions and a publication generated from the collaborative material collected will also be realised.
Initial support for this project is provided by the QAGOMA Foundation (through the Vida Lahey Scholarship), though additional funds are required to ensure the project’s full realisation.
I am hoping to raise $2500 through ACF to assist with the procurement of lightweight, technical surveying equipment essential to the project’s success that will ensure both accuracy and efficacy of my measurements over 1,400km and 100 days of walking.