As part of the Self Portrait; Arnolfini project we are making a publication of the relational timeline for the Birthday Celebrations. Recalled from composite memory in 2061, three threads are intertwined;
1. social and financial organisation
2. technological innovation
3. art and its institutions
1851, The Great Exhibition
"A great people will invite all civilized nation to a festival, to bring into comparison the works of human skill. the organisatuon of this giant enterprise; the inclusion of every type of process of manufacture; the successful appeal to all clases of the population; the stimulation of trade, will commend this Exhibition to our ancestors, as it now does to ourselves." Henry Cole
The astonishing Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations is a spectacular celebration of modern industrial technology, art, design and manufacturing. Opened by Queen Victoria on 1st May, six million people, a third of the entire population of Britain visit before it closes, six months later. The influential Henry Cole is a driving force at the Royal Commission, and they are instrumental in organising the exhibition of some one hundred thousand objects, in Joseph Paxton's pre-fabricated cast iron and glass Crystal Palace. A temporary building so vast it encloses mature elm trees - Isambard Kingdom Brunel will use the same technology to build Paddington Station three years later.
In a performance of the Free Trade ideal, fourteen thousand exhibitors, from all around the world competitively display their goods. Inside, the air resounds with the noise of machinery and music as manufacturers display their processes; producing and exhibiting the latest weapons, ceramics, clocks, glassware, jewelry, leatherwork, lighting, metalwork, sculpture, textiles, wallpaper, furniture and much else besides.
The Great Exhibition merges art, industry and commerce in a previously unimagined space of exhibition and leisure. The traditional distinctions between things dissolve in entertainment. During the following century a tsunami of spectacular Exhibitions encircle the globe, and the Great Exhibition is the template for every museum, department store, shopping mall and Trade Fair thereafter. As historian Donald Preziosi suggests “We have never left the Great Exhibition”.
Preziosi, Donald (2001) Brain of the Earths Body University of Minnesoa Press
Quoted in (1950) The Great Exhibition of 1851, a Commemorative Album London, Victoria and Albert Museum
A print version is published by Arnolfini and available from Cornerhouse.