Storm in a tea cup
‘Trail blazer’. ‘Pioneer’. ‘Innovator’. ‘Explorer’. Words written down after interviewing Brendan Walker – a man The Times has dubbed ‘The World’s Only Thrill Engineer’. HOT’s Zelly Restorick explains.
I was drawn to interview Brendan after reading some publicity material about his installation at The Pier Hub, describing his experiment as ‘using live wave data from Hastings Pier to stir a cup of tea in the Pier Hub’. Live wire data? Stirring a cup of tea? This needed some investigating!
Having seen some online footage of Brendan Walker, I wondered if he might be someone who lives in a perpetual state of exhausting heady excitement, enthusiasm and engineering euphoria. Hearing a gentle, thoughtful voiced man on the other end of the phone, however, it is clear this is just one side of his performing persona that by no means encapsulates the whole man.
Sea front tea shop
Walking past the Pier Hub [opposite The Pig and Paradise pub on the seafront), you will behold a tea shop window, inspired by Brendan’s childhood trips to Skegness and Scarborough. Inside, you’ll discover various unusual installations, including various cups of tea – one being stirred by a teaspoon, another dunked with a tea bag and another dunked by a Bourbon biscuit – responding directly to live wire data from the Pier.
Live wire data?
“Attached to the pier is a sensor, which responds to the depths and subtleties of the waves”, explained Brendan. “It takes readings 10 times a second, responding to the height of the water at any given time. This data is sent over the Internet to be accessed by people anywhere in the world. For example, fishermen in Brazil are linking in with the project.
“The live wire data is used to drive little motors at The Hub, where the motors respond to the raw digital information and animate the sculptures, which are all about drinking tea! For example, the tea is stirred in the cup using wave and swell data. Computer algorithms extract information about the size of the waves and the quality of the waves – and this connects directly to the installation.”
When Brendan gave his talk at The Hub, the main responses from his audience concerned our emotional response to the sea and waves – and using wave power as a renewable energy.
Brendan studied Aeronautical Engineering at Imperial College and worked for British Aerospace Military Aircraft. Planes and flight excited him, he explained, however projects took too long to complete – sometimes up to 25 years – and he yearned for a faster turn around and a more creative outlet. Studying at The Royal College of Arts, intending to become a designer, he found himself working instead with pirate radio stations – Japanese inspired ones, broadcasting within a 200m radius, intended to create a sense of community – and other social-minded projects, leading to an interest in interactive design, especially linked to how we respond emotionally to computers and technology.
The ‘Thrill Engineer’ nickname comes from Brendan’s involvement with various theme parks, creating heart stopping, scream inducing rides for the thrill seeking man, woman and child. Brendan’s Aerial Design practice, however, is much more about the whole gamut of emotional responses that humans experience, ‘specialising in the creation of tailored emotional experience’.
Asking Brendan about the motivating factors behind his work, he said he loves ‘to watch other people responding to myself or what I create – I love performing – engaging with installations, being amused and creating thought provoking work. He especially liked working on this project, as it’s taken a couple of years to develop and he’s become aware of both his own and other people’s fondness and affection for the pier. “This installation is about falling in love with the pier.”
I asked Brendan about his thoughts on mankind’s continuing existence in the light of environmental threats, declining resources for a growing population and our demand for energy. “My work looks at evolutionary biology. I feel we are having an impact on our environment faster than we can adapt and evolve emotionally and physically. We have the ability to create an incredible utopia, but we also have the ability to really mess things up.
Brendan has recently been asked to join the BBC’s ‘Coast’ team, a very exciting opportunity. Look out for him as their roving coastal engineer! Although according to their website: ‘you’re most likely to find him in his East End workshop drilling big holes in things he really shouldn’t!’
The Hastings Pier Charity website is very informative too.
Storm In A Tea Cup
The Pier Hub on Hastings seafront til 9 June, Wednesday to Saturday 11am – 4pm