I'Æ, Table One (Baucis and Philemon)

wood, stone, ore and silver chain with various materials
70 × 100 × 280 cm – 366 cm

“It was exactly this image: three stripes – two, plus one in the middle – that was the seed of the collaboration for the exhibition. Sitting with our daughter at the family table, an image came to me for a table with two outer stripes in wood, and a middle stripe in stone. From this minute spark, the table became a source of fascination and research for both of us, not primarily as an object of design, but as platform. From humble to ornate, simple to complex, the table serves a multitude of functions, many overlapping: eating, meeting, discussing, debating, resolving, playing, channelling, studying, surgery, worship, building, trading.

When we started to look for examples of a table with this composition of three stripes, we found only one that resembled ours; a modern industrial butchery table for many people to work around. The outer stripes for cutting the meat and the central stripe acting as a thoroughfare for unprocessed and processed meat to pass. From this, we drew a connection to the altar where the table is used for sacrifice, now symbolically, and functions as a tool constructing a spatial axis between the above and below; a vectorised surface indicating direction. From this outline, we had begun to sketch an idea for our own table. Intuitively oak was chosen as the wood of the table; old, strong, resilient, mythical.

While in Normandy, France, visiting the monastic gardens of the Saint-Riquier Abbey in the summer of 2018, our dog Ysolde led us towards a shaded section so dense the sun hardly touched us directly, yet was light enough to see unimpaired. The shade came from two parallel rows of lime trees within which a statue of the Madonna and Child were placed at the southern end, her left foot resting upon a snake. The space was formed from sixty-four lime trees espaliered into two green walls, called the ‘Allée de la Méditation’ within which we found a dead chick upon the ground. Birds had always played a considerable role either as sign, guideline or turning point in former collaborations. The use of auspices as a means to decipher the will of the gods is also connected to the aerial god Jupiter, who’s importance would become clearer later in the work. The memory of this alley of lime trees pointed us to research in more depth the significance of this tree. Here we discovered the emphasised ritual role of the tree, the use of lime wood because of its softness often used for carving figurines of saints, marionettes and puppets, but most importantly, its role as a community tree. There has been a long tradition where local communities held their judicial meetings under the shade of the lime tree to serve justice and maintain peace. Sometimes four taut ropes were added to delineate the space, also called a ‘Vierschaar’. The latin word ‘subtilis’ derived from the period when Roman philosophers gathered together under the lime tree to discuss fine, subtle differences. Further we found that the oak tree served the same purpose. It was believed that these trees would help ‘unearth’ the truth. These meetings were called a Thing, which originally meant ‘assembly’, a coming together of parts; also referring to a ‘fixed time’, ‘specific time’ or ‘time span’. These two wood species form the fundament of the table which stands at the heart of this exhibition; It relies on the strength of the oak, serving as the skeletal frame – traditionally constructed with precise joinery, and the pinning of some joints by the lime, binding the whole.

The image that emerged from bringing these two elements together was the intertwining pair of trees we found in the myth ‘Baucis and Philemon’ in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In the story, the Roman poet Ovidius tells of a union of oak and lime through their encounter with the gods Jupiter and Mercury who turn the couple, Baucis and Philemon, into the intertwined trees, in honour and at their request for their generous hospitality, despite the gods being disguised as vagrants and their hosts having very limited means. Jupiter and Mercury flood the rest of the neighbourhood for the other inhabitants wickedness, lack of compassion and hospitality but turn Baucis and Philemon’s home into a temple upon the water. From reading this myth, and subsequently transforming the joined structure of the table into the main characters, the development of the myth was paralleled.

The table has two levels; the top, which is made from two solid oak panels separated by a central stone, creating three stripes, and a lower level of only stone, that is proportionally the same as the stone above, yet smaller and is pierced by two struts that connect the lower stone to the one above. The stones represent the flood in the myth. Each slab of this first series of four tables come out of one and the same section from the quarry, later cut with close attention to detail, incorporating fossils and other elements present. So too, all of the oak used to make this table has come from one and the same tree felled in Germany.

The choice of the two stones representing the water in the myth was ultimately an intuitive process. After choosing the material, we found that both stones are remnants of primal ocean floors: the green dolomite being formed over ninety-million years ago and the Kilkenny limestone being formed over the past five-hundred million years; here layered one on top of the other. Going deeper into the narratives of the stone, we found two characters directly related to the materials: the Greek sea-god Glaucus connecting to the green dolomite and the Irish Saint Cainnech of Aghaboe to the Kilkenny Limestone, Glaucus being the sea-god of the sailers and fishermen; Saint Cainnech the patron saint of the shipwrecked. At either end of the table secreted in the leg assemblies and hidden from view are two minerals. At the northern end of the table is a piece of cassiterite and at the southern end a piece of cinnabar. These are the ores of tin and quicksilver respectively. In alchemy tin is referred to as Jupiter and quicksilver as Mercury.

Above the table hangs a vertical line of silver made from a combination of chain and small objects. The thread both reminds us of a pendulum and a rosary. Here both the objects and the chain intervals are equally important as a guide leading us through a sequence of nine phases present in the work.
From the ceiling the thread hangs down almost to the tables surface towards the tables centre. It begins its descent with a venetian chain referring to the ‘Vierschaar’ mentioned before. The chain then divides into two gourmet chains, one thin, one thick, respectively referring to Philemon and Baucis, the male and the female. Upon the thin chain hangs fulgurite, a glass-like tube formed by a lightning strike onto sand, representing an aspect of how the god Jupiter mediates his messages to the world. Further upon the thick chain hangs an orange rooster hackle, representing the zoomorphic transformation of dawn, connected to the deity Mercury. Lower down upon the thin chain and the thick chain hang two saltwater pearls, one white and one black, after which the two chains intertwine rotating around each other nine times in reference to the nine stages of the vertical line’s passage. The next stage of the vertical line is snake chain referring to Jung’s adaptation of Philemon in his Liber Novus, leading to a very thin venetian chain that ends upon a convex triangle of broken glass, pointing to a thin slice of air between the table and the perpendicular thread, reflecting an above and below.

By the right side of the doorway hangs a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, with on the left the original latin text and on the right an english translation. Here I used the written text of Baucis and Philemon as the central web diagramming the connections that emerged during the development of the work. Some fragments are isolated from the text, others covered with the pigment corresponding to the character present.”

excerpt from the text Raise | Lower | Inter
written and narrated by Thomas I’Anson and Cathérine Lommée

Table made from linden, oak, Kilkenny limestone, green dolomite, cinnabar and cassiterite.
Perpendicular thread made from five silver chains, fulgurite, brown rooster hackle, white saltwater pearl, black saltwater pearl, convex shard of glass.
Ovid’s Metamorphoses VIII:616-724 – Baucis and Philemon.