In Greenwich Degree Zero, Rod Dickinson and Tom McCarthy re-imagine the afternoon of 15 February 1894, when a French anarchist named Martial Bourdin was killed as the bomb he was carrying detonated.
The explosion took place on the slope beneath the Royal Observatory in London's Greenwich Park, and it was generally assumed that his intention had been to blow up this building. Lying on the First Meridian, at exactly 0° longitude, the Observatory was a prominent public building, the place from which all time throughout the British Empire and the world was measured and regulated.
Nonetheless, the exact nature and motivation of Bourdin's act remained unclear. Some rejected the theory that he had been trying to destroy the Observatory. They claimed instead that he had been transporting the explosive to a safe hiding place after the Autonomie Club, a meeting spot for European anarchists who had sought refuge in London following clampdowns on the continent, was placed under police surveillance.
Many on the left believed he had been duped into killing himself by a double-agent working for the police, who wanted to help the passage of Lord Salisbury's Aliens Bill (which urged a tightening of asylum laws) through parliament by instigating an 'outrage'.
In Greenwich Degree Zero, Rod Dickinson and Tom McCarthy re-imagine Bourdin's act as a successful attack on the Observatory. They do so by infiltrating and twisting the media of Bourdin's time, reproducing extant newspaper reports re-worked to fit their version of events.
They present a film made with a hand-cranked Victorian cinematic camera capturing the moment of the Observatory's destruction and photographic images depicting the building's ruins. By adhering to these formal contours, they tie history inextricably to the processes, institutions and technologies through which it is both represented and interpreted.
Greenwich Degree Zero is a work about mediation and repetition, interrogating the notion of 'event' by retrieving an occurrence which did not quite take place from its event-degree zero while still holding it in the negative space of non-event.
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