The structure, an ancient Greek temple, stands almost at the end of a long grassy hill, with a row of trees in the background. There is a light sea breeze, which makes the trees move. A building is solid, cannot move. But then… “yes, it moves,” you observe, bewildered and dizzy. A fascinating spectacle.
The temple swings back and forth on the wind. Apparently an impossibility, because weathered stone temples, as far as we perceive this in a sober state, are immobile and are so solidly built that they often remain intact during an earthquake. This temple moves with the wind. As you walk up the hill near the entrance to Tremenheere sculpture gardens (Penzance, Cornwall), you can see more and more that the structure is constructed with half of it in a hole at the top of the hill, hiding the base. And you discover that what looks like solid weathered marble from a distance – and even from a reasonably close range – is actually wood. Nothing is what it seems. The Doric columns and the tympanum are constructed of red cedar, and further information reveals that the columns consist of hollow pipes to which cedar slats are attached. As a result, their weight is so low that the wind can blow them back and forth. Each pillar is connected by a steel cable from the top through the hollow tube to a counterweight under the platform on which they stand. The counterweights themselves are interconnected by means of a steel frame, so that they move back to their vertical position in a mutual connection like that of a group of dancers. An ingenious combination of wind and gravity. The temple is intended to remain long enough for lichens to grow on it, but how long it will last is uncertain.
The temple was created as an ode to “our ambitious and precarious ingenuity,” says artist Penny Saunders, who worked for a long time as a builder of moving set pieces for a theatre company. Our ingenuity is certainly precarious; what unintended side effects and uncertainties has it brought to us. Despite the fact that the aim of technology was to offer us more security, the current world cannot exactly be seen as stable. It seems as if all the certainties and uncertainties of the moment are concentrated in this moving structure.
And yet… what a wonderful display of artistic inspiration. Blowing in the wind. And what a vision: everything we consider to be “stable in value” is subject to the movement of time. Everything wears out, erodes, ages, decays. Nothing is what it seems. Could that be the underlying message of this restless temple in our restless world? The sum total of what are fixed values for us, could that not also be seen as a form of optical illusion, because everything is in fact temporary? Not nice to let that sink in. But now that we have exhausted almost all the technical gadgets to make our lives more pleasant, it is difficult to continue to believe in technical progress.
On the other hand, this work of art is also humorous and puts things into perspective due to its design. And perhaps also symbolic of the place that a conscious seeker could occupy in today’s society: we are flexible and at times move along to extremes. But as long as we remain aware of the connection with the anchor in our midst, we can maintain a balance. Everything is subject to the laws of nature that apply here, which all keep each other in balance, around a centre. Peace is at the centre. Why not put our hope and our confidence at the centre of ourselves?
Restless Temple – ride the storm