Billy Aston Myatt Beard




Instagram: @domperignondon

A low res photo of the chest of a man wearing a white t-shirt that says 'TEMPLE'.

 (A large warehouse, its floor made of concrete, but the glow of the lights gives it a warm brownish tinge. The majority of construction takes place in the long pit that cuts through the length of the building. There are large shutters at the far end of the pit. The only other visible source of daylight is a double door with only one side open, midway through the warehouse. Lights are bars, hung seemingly without pattern from girders. Actors appear on stage in the centre. Some sheets of timber and scaffolding are placed in neat piles throughout the space. Changing light slips across the floor, first in squares, then in long strips.)

The first of the timber sheets is laid at an angle, before being straightened up and set against six more. The first sheet remains an outlier, above the rectangle the other six create. Following this, placed in front of and below the timber, are the scaffold poles, in rows according to their length and colour. Real construction begins with the columns of the set. Five metal octagonal frames are built either side of the pit. The closest column is the only one without an equivalent. Below them, lengths of timber are used to map out the architecture — like a chalk outline showing what was once there before, or perhaps like a line around each tool in a workshop, designating where each will fit when returned. It is at this point that we can infer a castle. The camera watches at a distance as the columns are clad. This distance makes it hard to tell, but it appears that each face of their octagonal shape is a full sheet of timber — a standard measure that only came into use long after castles and palaces ceased to be built.

For a while not much else moves. Lots more timber begins to arrive, and the light remains changing, dancing across the fresh cut timber and giving it a luminosity, but its imperfections and shapes begin to fade. It takes on a much flatter look, likely as the set swaps from daylight to artificial lighting. At some point shapes have emerged on the far ledge. It is uncertain how long they were there. They are curves rested on a timber grid, as if to suggest a graph. These are intersected in the frame by rows of chains on the opposite ledge, which hang heavily across the screen. At the bottom they too begin to bow, suggesting drapery. Resuming the video, more shapes emerge, ever more timber flooding in. It has replaced the light in this way. For the first time, someone builds a workbench out of the timber. The camera traces the contractors movements around this, knowing that it cannot remain on the final set. It is followed by another.

The light does return. This becomes the only compass for time in the video; we can follow it as it stretches across the structure each morning and evening. After the second time it comes by, the shutters are closed and we are left with the warmth of the artificial lighting. Once they are opened again, the light shifts from left to right before disappearing, leaving only the glow of timber in its wake. The columns double in height and eventually are joined together. When the closest is completed, three of the panels sit on the pit’s edge. At this distance, we can make out that each face is 3 sheets of ply, stacked horizontally.

Two archways appear on the bottom left of the screen. Their bulbous shape suggests a pavilion. (1) What look like parapets are placed on the furthest of the columns, by the entrance. At this point the palace begins to emerge. The arches are fit across the near pair of columns. The closest column remains singular, its counterpart not needed in filming.

At this point the camera changes. It does so with a fade, and for the few frames — less than a second when the video is watched at full speed — we are left with a palimpsest. It is overwhelming. Both frames exist at once, in halves, before the new angle emerges. In this in-between, there are thousands of pieces of wood that appear like ghosts. It is a haunting in which the viewer is reminded that this was all living matter before it was a replica. Once the second angle becomes clear, we see that the structure resembles a palace more clearly. We can begin to infer that it is West Asian: the architecture is ornate with bulbous forms yet tends towards harsher geometry more rarely seen in other Asian buildings with similar motifs. At this point it is still just a timber frame, and we unable to date it — in fact much of the building is still unclad, intersected by metal poles which cross and intersect each other further. There is another arch on the floor. The wood is curved beautifully, as if it were to follow the curves of a body, and has been joined with an equal piece at the feet. There is a ladder before it, allowing the contractors to work on something twice their height. The ladder appears a soft yellow in the warm lights, although this could easily be mistaken for timber itself.

After this, the camera’s view is obstructed by the gates to the structure and little changes despite signs of movement. Through the gates is an empty floor, touched only briefly by the light.

More cages begin to go up, this time nearer to the lens. Scaffold poles in the main structure are either swapped out or covered by wood. It still is a network of beams, but their tones begins to soften. There are still no markable features. A lattice is build between the column closest to the lens, now on the far side of the pit, and the main structure. It is comprised of grids of 5 x 4 squares of timber, intersected by a diagonal length — this repeats itself along five times and up two. Timber is piled up in the square before it, preparing for the next stages. This is organised into lengths. On the ledge above this (stage left) there are other ornate objects that are compartmentalised and sorted into place. It is not quite certain what there will be used for, but their forms suggest again that they are parapets. Stacks of timber continue to form; struts are kept separate from sheets, or from box-like forms that are made closer to the far side of the pit. Curved panels of wood cover the arches above the portcullis. The chains stir. Timber piles up further. Windows and parapets are placed, far more ornate than anything that has preceded them. Four smaller octagonal columns are built. Cladding begins to set in motion, creating a shape that is now no longer hollow, even if incomplete. It gives the feeling of decay, despite its geometrical perfection. Again, everything is done to standard measurements: a palace of this exact size would likely have never existed.

Cladding is completed over the next few days, with only minor adjustments being made to the form itself. Now when the light skims, it does so as if catching a wall. The palace catches light as it falls through a window, reminding us that we are still inside, and the chance of light entering its own windows to create something resembling the real, is incredibly slim. Scaffolding is erected before the camera as the cladding proceeds, blocking the view as it is finished. In the distance, palm trees are brought in. It is unclear if these are real or fake. Inside the warehouse there is no breeze, so the leaves remain static. Even amongst all the timber, it is easier to imagine their inert shape as a replica too. There is something untoward in that this is a replica desert. That far too few of these palms could ever grow to build anything in timber, let alone a palace. Timber, despite its inexpensiveness, becomes an impossibility in the original.

Next the wood is stained. It is a deeper brown that still maintains, knowing that underneath it is pine, the look of a darker hardwood. Here you can see that the cladding is made up of tiled wooden false-bricks. Blue screens appear in the distance, suggesting that there is filming going on, although we cannot see that side of the palace. Later these are placed behind the pine trees, serving to create an artificial sky. It is probable that this will be replaced with a sky of its own, or possibly the brown of a sandstorm. The gate is drawn, and we closed off from the event on the other side.

The camera shifts again, just to the left of where it was before, again layering the frames. A lattice of chains and scaffold fills the screen. When the focus returns, a mound of dirt has been piled into the pit. For a brief time the ladder is placed at its foot. As the remaining blue screens go up, the dirt is ploughed by the machinery, creating tracks through the gate — desire lines. It is spread thinner and thinner, until it forms a blanket of brown over the floor. A large square light is switched on over the far wall of the castle for filming; it resembles the shutters we saw much earlier, opening onto the world beyond, but switches off and the palace is inside the warehouse again. Something is filmed inside the courtyard of the palace, but blue screens obstruct the camera. This is a scene that the viewer is outside of. At this point, all the camera sees are the columns either side of the gate, and the scaffolding that supports the structure. Again, the specifics of the architecture remain vague, but this pinewood place feels to resemble Persia. We watch from above — a God’s-eye view. The light becomes very intense — golden over the set — before returning again to the flat light used by workmen. Further filming takes place. Strands of blue rope fleck across the screen, cutting into the brown of the set. Things become hazy from here on, as if the air has been filled with sand. The blue screens and reflectors continue to move, dancing through the space. The sands of time move too fast for us to watch the action below.


Pt. II

When the 1984 fire broke out at the Pinewood 007 Studios, aerial footage of the damage was broadcast on national TV. From above, we see how the corrugated iron has bowed and collapsed in the heat. The helicopter circles above the site, omniscient. It mimics a Persian miniature painting — depicting the view of Allah, looking down onto a scene void of perspective. Where Islamic art depicted sublimity, Renaissance artists sought perceptual accuracy through linear perspective — measuring each length to exactness, replicating a place as if building a set. After the fire, photos of the inside of the studios depicted the light shining through the bare cages of what was left. It is like looking at a cathedral in the morning, and yet it resembles a set that is only half built.

On the set, the bulbous shape of the gate mimics a mihrab, but when viewed in the linear perspective of the camera, it becomes an object of privation not an opening. Pinewood has its own symbolic gate: that of the Heatherden Hall on which it is built. This gate is no longer used, having been replaced by a security entrance towards the periphery of the estate, but it continues to appear in films shot at the studios as a display of opulence.

In other videos about the fire, I hear of entire forests being constructed from polystyrene and timber. The materials tell us something of death preceding the life of a set: something of the irony of trees made of timber. I find myself returning to the question Is it sacrilege to build a place of worship from wood, knowing what could happen? Is the devotion found in the Church itself or is it in the act of prayer? Or perhaps in its construction, in the same way as a mausoleum might be. I find images of Lenin’s mausoleum, and realise that a wooden mausoleum can only invite rot. In a desert, I must remind you, there are not the trees to build with timber.

There are many ways in which to treat pine for construction, but when we do so, we must consider how it will implicate the site. Do some processes warp and shrink less than others — and might that lessen the rift between what was once there and what is no longer? Of course, the fire removes all. The wood loses its hygroscopic proporties, and its size becomes fixed. The event asserts its singularity. The writer tries to give memory, tenderness and meaning to all that howling space. (2)

The burning of timber in the practise of Yakisugi, means that the materials will last at least 80 years, without chemicals. They become weather, fire, and pest resistant. It is interesting that such damage can create such permanence. In the case of Pinewood, it can make a temporary set — a replica of the real — able to last for much longer than intended. Is it the archival impulse that beckons to burn down a forest? So that we may walk between the stumps, watching their black sheen. They appear like oil, rendering “excavation sites” into “construction sites” (3). In time, it is easy to imagine that these may be the last of the forests.

In July 2006, just after ‘Casino Royale’ had finished filming, fire broke out again — this time caused by an oxyacetalyne torch used to dismantle the structure supporting the Venice sets. More recently, another fire broke out at Pinewood on the set of Snow White. It was reported that it started with the thatched roof of the house catching ablaze, the fire spreading rapidly from there. At some point it begins to feel like a haunting. Or perhaps it is merely a game of chance; to fill a room with timber so often is merely to wait for it to come alive in flame.

On the Old Kent Road I pass a building frame made of fresh-cut timber. In its treatment fresh timber takes on a lucid tone in how it clings to the light and seems to glow amongst the grey of the city surrounding it, as if still alive. Like an ember amongst ash, this will fade, but at one point there is life that cuts through the horizon of the inert. 

1 Also defined as: (a temporary building, stand, or other structure in which items are displayed at a trade exhibition)What look like parapets are placed on the furthest of the columns, by the entrance. At this point the palace begins to emerge. The arches are fit across the near pair of columns. The closest column remains singular, its counterpart not needed in filming.

2 Don Delillo. In the Ruins of the Future

3 Hal Foster. An Archival Impulse. In time, it is easy to imagine that these may be the last of the forests.

Mantle, Installation, 2023