'For all time' - The Swan Wing, The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon. 2016.
Main photo: Andrew Fox.
“When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine.”
Romeo & Juliet Act III Scene II
'The Royal Shakespeare Company has commissioned artist, designer and maker Steven Follen to produce the largest permanent artwork to date for its Stratfoprd-upon-Avon theatres. The work, entitled 'For all time' will be the major focus for the interior public spaces of the refurbished Swan Wing and will be revealed to the public on 23rd April 2016 as part of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death. The project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Drawing on the theme of 'Time', given in the commission brief, 'For all time' takes the form of a 3m tall human face, made of 2,000 stainless steel stars suspended from the ceiling by fine steel wires. The three dimensional artwork will have an ethereal quality to it, reflecting light and moving gently in the air. It will be visible to visitors from both the ground floor and first floor balconies, enabling them to experience the artwork from many different perspectives. The face will be surrounded by further metal stars, positioned to loosely reflect the position of the constellations on Shakespeares's birthday.
Shakespeare's writings are filled with numerous references to stars, destiny and the passing of time. 'For all time' is inspired in particular from Romeo & Juliet Act III Scene II, where Juliet speaks of her star-cross'd lover Romeo,
"When he shall die, take him and cut him out in little stars, and he will make the face of heaven so fine...."
Follen comments: "Shakespeare uses Juliets speech to forewarn of Romeo's death, placing him in the heavens as stars. In Shakespeares plays and sonnets the stars and night are often associated with an individuals destiny, the passing of time and the inevitable path to death. The stars guide the lives of the star cross'd lovers in Romeo and Juliet, Pyramus's 'soul is in the sky' in a Midsummer Nights Dream and in King Lear, Kent observes that: 'it is the stars, the stars above us, govern our conditions,".
Earlier in Juliets speech, Shakespeare refers to the sun god Phoebus and the charriot and horses which carry the sun across the sky, travelling from east to west and then down below the horizon into the underworld and night. Shakespeare often refers to the transition from day to night to illustrate the passing of time, he often talks about the different qualities of light; the cool, pale, silvery quality of the light from the stars and the moon and the fiery, burning gold of the sun.
Many cultures, their religions, myths and stories have often looked to the heavens and the stars as symbols of the afterlife, the journey of the soul after death and the search for immortality. The stars and the night sky have been used to mark time, the seasons and navigate the world."
The title for "For all time', is a quote from Ben Jonson's eulogy to Shakespeare: ' He was not of an age, but for all time!'. Further inspiration for Follen came from existing architectural styling found in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Swan Wing; an amalgam of Victorian Gothic, 1930's Art Deco and 21st Century industrial design in which metal features prominently.
Steven follen comments: 'The strong verticles of the space ( in the windows, the wood panelling and baulustrades) draw our eyes upward in a 'heavenly' direction. The dark vaulted roof void, the windows, iron and stonework hold visual associations to chaples and made me think of painted ceilings such as Owens Jones's work in Carlisle Cathedral...It reminded me of the ribs of a boat, Anglo saxon boat burials, the rhythm of the moons phases, the tides and time.
Full Fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade'
but doth suffer a sea change".
The quote from the Tempest has something of the transformative nature that Shakespeare uses when imaging Romeo being cut into stars; in time we will all die and decompose, our bodies will break down into other components and be transformed into something new, whether dust, twinkling stars or glistening pearls.
These are some of the imagery and qualities I wish to incorporate into the work for the Swan Wing Commission. I would like to produce a piece that people can interact with on several levels; that will prompt thoughts about the imagery and symbols Shakespeare used within his works around the theme of time and mortality, a piece which can also be enjoyed for its visual or technical qualities.I would like it to be something that both connects with and references the materials and styling in different parts of the theatre complex whilst at the same time connecting itself, through its position, scale and the materials and imagery with the building and the Swan Wing space. The work will also be a reflection of the skills and processes available in contemporary metalwork, design and technology."
For all time is the RSC's largest permanent site - specific artwork commission and also Follen's largest commission to date. Its construction is an engineering challenge; the 2,000 stars will be fabricated from sheet stainless steel; photo etched and then hand folded to create a three dimensional form. The stars will be fixed on stailnless steel micro cables and hung from a grid on the ceiling in order to achieve the desired three dimensional face. Digital models have been used to calculate the geometry and placement of the stars. The project combines traditional craft skills with industrial processes and digital technologies.
For all time forms part of a major project to restore the oldest part of the RSC's theatres in Stratford-upon-Avon, the 1879 ' Swan Wing', significantly improving the buildings public spaces and exterior.
Curated items from the RSC's collection will be on show for the first time in the new cafe bar and the ' Rialto bridge' that links the public spaces to the theatre auditorium will be transformed with a newly commissioned illustration telling the story of the RSC in Stratford.
The Swan Wing's brickwork, lead windows, and roof lights have been restored, alongside the three exterior bas reliefs by Paul Kummer, which depict Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories and Tragedies. The original stained glass windows that line the Swan Theatre staircase and illustrate the Seven Ages of Man speech from Shakespeare's 'As You Like It' have also been restored.
The refurbishment of the Swan Wing has been made possible through a £2.8 million award from the HERITAGE LOTTERY FUND, with generous support from THE TUBNEY CHARITABLE TRUST, GARFIELD WESTON FOUNDATION, DCMS/WOLFSON MUSEUMS & GALLERIES IMPROVEMENT FUND, THE WOLFSON FOUNDATION and many other generous supporters.