The Brocken Spectre Project
We've had the privilege of working with Charles Monkhouse on his latest commission Brocken Spectre. The project was funded by Arts Council England and was hosted by English Heritage at Rievaulx Abbey. Having worked with Charles previously on his Derwent Pulse commission we knew his Brocken Spectre event would be an exciting and engaging project where we'd have the opportunity to learn about and experience this natural phenomenon in a man made environment.
We were tasked with the objective to design a book for the event which contains an essay by Richard Davey where he challenges expectations and understanding of Brocken Spectres. The book also showcase past works by Charles as well as Brocken Spectre experiment images photographed by Carl Whitham and David White.
A Brocken spectre, also called Brocken bow or mountain spectre, is the apparently enormous and magnified shadow of an observer, cast upon the upper surfaces of clouds opposite the sun. The head of the figure is often surrounded by the glowing halo-like rings of a glory—rings of coloured light that appear directly opposite the sun when sunlight meets a cloud of uniformly-sized water droplets.
As part of our research for the book design we made our way to Charles' workshop on a cold January evening to see a test setup of a brocken spectre. The setup consisted of a large and very bright spotlight and a mechanical mist generator and to our knowledge the test worked well, although Charles wasn't as pleased with the results as we were due to weather conditions.
This experience gave us the perfect start to understanding how to approach the concept, layout and structure of the book design. A few months passed by and we were invited to a preview of the broken spectre hosted at the Level Centre where it was interesting to see the developments Charles had made to combat the elements.
One of Yorkshire's finest abbeys, Rievaulx Abbey, hosted the exclusive sound and light spectacle and over four consecutive nights was transformed by Charles, bringing a unique phenomenon to the majestic ruins. Our journey around Rievaulx Abbey guided us into four areas: Illumaphonium (Infirmary Cloister), Silent voices (Cloister), Projections (North and South Transept) and Brocken Spectre (Sanctuary).
The first step in our journey was the Illumaphonium created by Michael Davis, which is an interactive music installation made up of illuminated aluminium chime bars responding with patterns of light and sound when touched. This was pretty cool, and my dog was fascinated (and probably confused) by the sound!
Children of Helmsley Community Primary School voiced poems inspired by the life of monks at Rievaulx, which can be heard within the Cloister before walking into the North and South Transept there were visual accounts from Brocken Spectre experiences projected on to the transept walls. Beyond the Transept within the Sanctuary was the Brocken Spectre, protected from the elements within its own booth, attracting a large snaking queue of fascinated visitors marvelling at magnified version of their own shadows, cast upon mist and surrounded by their own halo.
A large percentage of the book revolves around Richard Davey essay addressing Brocken Spectres where he challenges conventional wisdom and perception of this natural spectacle, whilst also paying homage to Charles' past works. The book features experiment based spectre photography by Carl Whitham as well as photography from past projects by David White.
Our approach, in terms of structuring content, utilised traditional layout techniques with a focus on format and scale whilst the cover concept derives direction from uniformly-sized water droplets represented by a grid of uniformed laser cut holes. The approach and execution was purposely made simple but the overall result makes a lasting impression.