Monday, 3 November 2008

Mountbatten Fire

Three years ago, at the end of October 2005, a major building at our university burned down. Fortunately, no-one was injured, but something like £50 million of damage was done, as the building housed part of the School of Electronics and Computer Science, where some of the most advanced research and development work in the university was going on, mainly in the fields of optoelectronics and microelectronics. It is said to have been the largest academic insurance claim in history. You can imagine the devastation at every level: apart from expensive real estate and equipment, many postgraduates and researchers will have lost all their computer files and notes.

Remarkably, I had a modest share in this disaster, too: I had just sold four works from my recent exhibition to the ECS staff common room, and they will have either been burnt to ashes or hosed into pulp by the firefighters. I'm not sure how big a proportion of that record insurance claim they were: I wasn't so tactless as to ask anyone ...

Now, exactly three years later, the new Mountbatten Building has, ah, risen from the ashes. Here is a view of its remarkable decorated windows from outside the university, from the adjacent Common. They're covered with patterns a bit like a dazzle paint job on a WW1 battleship. Perhaps they have an apotropaic function ... (go on, look it up).

And here is one of the images that perished in the flames. Conceived as a "all digital" project called Ring Hoard (still ongoing -- see my webpage for a sample), there's a distinct irony in the fact that the images are meant to represent pseudo-magical objects with, um, apotropaic powers. I'm not saying the fire was my fault, but I can't help wondering if I somehow got the polarities the wrong way round ...

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