ÉTALON: A PERFORMATIVE WALK IN SEARCH OF THE METRE
In June 1792, Napoleon tasked two french astronomers with an ambitious task: to traverse an arc inscribed on the surface of the Earth and determine a new ‘universal’ standard — the metre.
Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Delambre and Pierre-François-André Méchain travelled the length of the Meridian arc from Dunkerque to Barcelona in order to extract a singular number drawn from the curvature of the Earth itself – a number that would ultimately define the length of the metre. Exemplifying the French Revolution’s promise of equality, this metric was calculated as one ten-millionth of the distance from the North Pole to the equator – a standard literally drawn from the earth itself; belonging not to France, but to the world entire. Over 220 years later, the metre remains — validating Napoleon’s proclamation that ’Conquests may come and go, but this work will endure’.
It is my intention to replicate this journey as a durational action étalon. I will undertake a performative walk from Dunkerque to Barcelona — following the same arc as Delambre and Méchain, attempting to repeat the astronomical observations and calculations necessary to ultimately determine a ‘metre’ of my own making. This journey – that I estimate will take 80-90 days to complete — is act of homage, endurance and absurdity – a study of both the length and the lengths taken by science in order to establish a standard. This work is intended not merely as a replication of distance travelled, but is a reflection of our capacity to transcend the bounds of our experience — to conceive beyond ourselves to that which can not be seen.