Tepuis Plinth Project
Tepuis Plinth is a site-specific project that will, over a ten-year period, see the world's largest sculpture erected atop 9,094 foot-high Mount Roraima, Venezuela. Roraima belongs to a group of around a hundred sandstone mesas (known as tepuis), towering plateaux formed by thousands of years of erosion. Their summits pushing through the clouds, the tepuis resemble oversized skyscrapers, or giant natural plinths. The sculpture is a 1000ft replica of a beta-max videocassette, an obsolete technology of recent western history. In one sense it is an absurd, random monument to a culture about as far removed as one can get from the pre-historic terrain of Roraima. Yet as it rests on its austere mountain seat above the clouds, its incongruity will give way to a strange formalist harmony - a z-axis to the x and y formed by the plateau's sheer edges. Like the great earthwork of 1970s American land artists (e.g. Nancy Holt's Sun Tunnels, situated deep in the desert miles from anywhere) the sculpture at Tepuis Plinth will not be seen by many, and for those who do, only by plane or by visiting Roraima itself. A superfluous wonder of the world, which for most of us might not exist at all. Yet there it will be.
The scale of the project requires an astronomical budget, unprecedented levels of technical planning and, as with those other isolated platforms - the North Sea oil rigs a permanently installed workforce. Some basic details are listed at the end of the article.
Tepuis Plinth was conceived in 1999 after the artist had been refused planning permission for One Night Stand, a temporary site-specific work at Uluru (Ayer's Rock), Australia. The indigenous aboriginal community had vetoed his plan to open a pre-fabricated sex club at the site. The neon-clad structure was to be lowered by helicopter onto the rock's northern peak, opening for business for a period of one night before its removal. The irony was lost on the deciding parties, and the club never made it to the sacred ground of Uluru. After the disappointment of Australia, the artist returned home to England. Sorting through his possessions one afternoon he came across an old beta-max videocassette, unlabelled and in good condition. Not without great difficulty he tracked down a beta-max player in working order and was able to view the tape. Amidst old football highlights and re-runs, was the bulk of Werner Herzog's visionary film Fitzcarraldo (1982) in which the eponymous hero sets out to establish an Opera house deep in the Amazonian jungle. To fund his scheme he captains a steamboat down an uncharted tributary, in hope of locating a rich source of rubber. In the film's most memorable scene, hundreds of natives haul the craft over a hill in order to deposit it in an adjacent stretch of river. Inspired by the epic grandeur of Fitzcarraldo's dream, (which resonated with his own thwarted outings to Uluru), and struck by the curiously sculptural aspect of the cassette that had transmitted it to him, the artist formulated the basis of a new project. At this point, his mind wandered a thousand miles upstream from the Amazon basin, and to the haunting plateaux of Conan-Doyle's Lost World - the tepuis. A source of fascination since childhood, he knew that here was the setting - mythical, theatrical, and isolated - in which to build the sculpture. A giant plinth for a giant object. Thus was born Tepuis Plinth.
In 2001, after several meetings between the artist and the Venezuelan culture and environmental departments, the government gave the go ahead to commence work on Roraima. Although, like all tepuis, Roraima and its unique eco-system had previously been protected as a conservation area, the Venezuelans soon fell in love with the idea, and also felt that they were unable to turn down the considerable financial offers made by the project's anonymous sole sponsor, a close personal friend of the artist. A team of leading architects, engineers and development consultants was assembled, and at newly established London headquarters work began on the colossal task of planning the sculpture's construction. There were infinite things to consider - the provision of building supplies and materials to a site hundreds of miles from civilization, the hazards of working at such great altitude, the problem of perennial rain etc. The workforce would also have to function independently for long periods - a significant area of Roraima's surface would effectively become a miniature town, with its own farm, hospital and leisure facilities (though no sex club).
Two and a half years later, with every last detail in place, work is finally underway on Mount Roraima, Venezuela. Over the next decade, a towering monolith will gradually take shape, growing ever taller above the clouds. And some time in 2012, if you happen to be in the area, you'll be able to see a giant beta-max videotape standing proud on Tepuis Plinth.
Permanent Core Work Force ( on site )
Building, general construction : 200
Specialist technical : 20
Engineering : 30
Architectural : 10
Site Managenent : 10
Domestic Services : 20
Medical : 20
Helicopters : 10
Artist : 1
TOTAL : 321
300 million pounds
General Time Frame ( approx )
Stage 1 - Initial site preparation (accommodation, medical, offices, supply routes) : 30 months
Stage 2 - Foundations : 18 months
Stage 3 - Construction : 60 months
TOTAL : 9 years