Dominoes – Becoming an expert block layer!

I’ve never considered myself to have the physical capabilities to ever become a builder, but over the past couple of weeks I have had the opportunity to work very closely with Station House Opera in the creation of their fantastic art installation entitled Dominoes, and now perhaps I could see myself as ‘the building type’

Dominoes was held as part of Coventry Mysteries Festival which I have also been working with over the past couple of weeks, and this acted as the big finale to the weekend of diverse art that this festival had brought to the city.

Dominoes - Coventry Mysteries Festival

Dominoes – Coventry Mysteries Festival

What is Dominoes?

Dominoes took place in Coventry on May 26th 2014, including 4500 concrete blocks, 64 volunteers and a trail covering over 1.5km of Coventry’s town centre. The basic idea was to create a large scale domino chain topple that made a path through the city centre highlighting its areas of beauty and importance as well as making a spectacular feature of the structures that perhaps weren’t so glamorous, such as an unattractive three storey car park. It was a very ambitious project, especially for Coventry, but one that brought a great level of excitement to the city (you could certainly feel this in the collective buzz of the crowd as the dominoes fell around them).

My role in the project:

In the week leading up to this event I worked closely particularly with the artistic director Julian Maynard Smith and production manager Dan Adams primarily on the design and construction of the feature sections of the run, such as one blocks dive through a waterfall, a blocks suicidal jump from the second floor of the car park, and a group of blocks determination to climb over the cathedral walls, up a four meter staircase, constructed out of fellow block comrades.

Dominoes Testing - Ricoh Arena

Dominoes Testing – Ricoh Arena

I remember the first time we really encountered the blocks, in the car park of the Ricoh Arena, it was then that we realised how major of a project it was, and how many problems these blocks presented which we had to find ways to overcome. The 4 meter staircase climbing over the Old Cathedral wall was something in particular that even Dan and Julian had not faced before, and something we only really had one day to fully construct in the space. It was a terrifying, dramatic and incredibly exciting project to be involved in, and one which we could only anticipate success in once all the blocks had fallen down.

The days that followed the Ricoh trials saw us trying to plan and construct the features in their locations. We spent a morning at the waterfall working out how one block can consistently fall from the window and continue the chain below, we spent an afternoon in the car park building a platform for a block to dive off and a few hours working out how to create an effective line down a steep cobbled hill (as you could imagine: Hills + Cobbles + Dominoes = Nightmare!). After this intense training we were officially declared ‘Block Experts’, and ready to assist and guide the section managers and volunteers over the next couple of days.

The arrival of the section managers:

The section managers for each department arrived on the Sunday morning, a day before the event itself, and at this point, suddenly my levels of expertise were put to the test. In this afternoon I worked on training up the eleven section managers in some of the tricky terrains they might face, such as cobbles, staircases and grass, but then also became a point of contact for them if they faced any difficulties through out the day, and the event itself.

Dominoes - Hill Top (the cobbled nightmare)

Dominoes – Hill Top (the cobbled nightmare)

I, among others, had to become experts by default, as Dan unfortunately fell ill on the Sunday and could not make it in. So, me, Martin (an artist who had also shared the experience for the past couple of days) and Ben (the festival assistant production manager) had to step up the plate and take on the responsibilities Dan would have undertaken had he been well enough. On the day of the event this meant that we were responsible for ensuring each of the sections were tested and working just before the launch of the event, it meant that we were responsible for ensuring that the feature sections were effective and that the final blocks (the ones that were destined to fall to their doom) were put in place. It was a great pressure, but one that we were each determined to overcome in the final hours leading up to the launch.

I’m not sure I’ve ever ran around so much in one day, nor talked so much through a walkie talkie, or lifted so many blocks, or climbed up the top of a slightly wobbly 4 meter high loose concrete structure (especially not being great with heights), but somehow the desire to see the success of Dominoes, after all the hard work that had been put into it leading up to this day, made us all determined to drive through it all.

Waiting for the first domino to fall:

Dominoes - Loading the big drop

Dominoes – Loading the big drop

As we waited for the first domino to be pushed I was stood on the second floor of the car park with one block in my hands waiting to place it on the edge of the two storey dive. A fairly large crowd had gathered around the drop, waiting for me to put the block, waiting to see the first feature section of the proceedings, and there was me, incredibly tense hoping more than anything right now that if everything else were to fail please God just let  one drop work. The walkie talkie announced that the run had started, that was my cue, the block was placed on the end and all I could do then was wait for it to fly or fall.

Of course it was a rousing success. I am an expert block layer after all!!

And, despite a couple of blocks that went astray during the run, the whole event seemed to work beautifully leaving nobody disappointed. It was fantastic to see the excitement of it growing as more and more people got caught up in the magic of breeze blocks falling down in a line, and equally as fantastic to see the pride that grew in the volunteers that helped during the day, their smiles certainly said ‘I was there to help make this happen’.

Dominoes - Coventry Mysteries Festival

Dominoes – Coventry Mysteries Festival

Finally, when the last tower fell at the end of the run, inside the old cathedral, I breathed a sigh of relief, then fully realising just how rewarding this project had been for the community of people involved in it, as well as the city of people that ran alongside it as it all fell down.


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