A Belfast-born artist and filmmaker is the driving force behind a project documenting the redevelopment of the site of one of the worst atrocities of modern times.
“REBUILDING: The Great Spirit in the Sky” consists of paintings, drawings and short films inspired by and charting the construction of the new World Trade Center in New York City. Produced entirely by Belfast native Marcus Robinson, REBUILDING began on Ground Zero in 2002 and will continue to document work on the development until its completion date in 2015.
Robinson has extensive access to the development and shoots the real-time work of construction workers as well as charting the progress of the buildings’ formations using a series of time-lapse cameras dotted around the 16-acre site.
The former Campbell College, Belfast, pupil plans to produce a feature-length film from the footage he has compiled which will be interspersed with images of his paintings of the construction process, an approach he hopes will represent the intersection of the physical world with the imagined world.
Robinson, in an interview, said he always “knew in his heart” that he wanted to be an artist.
“As a child I always loved painting and drawing,” said Robinson who went on to study modern languages at Cambridge University.
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“Somehow I developed an interest in photography and won several photographic contests at school. After Cambridge I went to live in Paris with the vision of becoming a successful Parisian photographer.”
Equipped with a fascination with the construction process, thanks to the profession of his late father Norman Robinson, a renowned naval draftsman who worked for Harland and Wolff, Marcus Robinson naturally gravitated towards photographing “urban landscape, architecture, gardens and construction” whilst in France.
“I have always found that the world of industrial and construction photography is infinitely inspiring and creative,” said Marcus.
“Now, in particular, the work I am doing about the rebuilding of the World Trade Center is extremely inspiring as the site has involved many different aspects from the start: the laying bare of ancient forms of bedrock as the foundations are chiseled out by giant drilling machines; the dismantling and demolition of the whole east part of the site; digging down into the earth and exposing the original piles on which the former World Trade Center had been built; the amazing face of the many men and women rebuilding.”
REBUILDING is not the first such work to be produced by Marcus, who documented the construction of the London Eye in the run-up to the millennium.
“I was introduced to the architects of the London Eye and presented them with my portfolio of Parisian architectural photography. They then asked me to photograph the making of the Eye,” he said.
“I had just recently bought a Bolex 16mm film camera that makes it possible to do animation and time-lapse filming so, as I was photographing the different elements of the London Eye being made, I was also experimenting with shooting film. This then led to Channel 4 commissioning a 30-minute piece to be shown on the channel on millennium eve followed by a slot at the London Film Festival later that year.
“My photographic book of the project, called ‘Eye’, was published in 2007.”
After the London Eye project finished, a meeting with film producers about a possible collaboration led to the idea for REBUILDING.
“Our meeting took place on
the day that the news was talking
about architect Daniel Libeskind winning the award for his design of the urban plan for the rebuilding of
the World Trade Center,” said
“Somehow, as we watched my show reel of work together, the idea bubbled up that we should make a film about the site. From that moment I knew in my heart this was something I really wanted to commit to. The first meeting I had in New York on the project was with Nina and Daniel Libeskind themselves. They seemed to be inspired by the vision for the project and helped create the key openings to meet the Port Authority of New York, (which owns the land) and Silverstein Properties (the World Trade Center developers).”
Marcus was eventually granted permission by the New York Port Authority to start filming in 2002.
“I was soon standing on the site, with my 35mm time-lapse film camera, focusing on the big machines digging the foundations of Tower One,” he remembers.
“The challenge of funding such a long-term project is considerable. Channel 4 have recently come on board and commissioned a 60-minute version for UK TV. Many of the contractors on site have helped keep the project going and I have had amazing support from Silverstein Properties and the Port Authority.”
The artwork produced by Marcus throughout the course of REBUILDING, which is available to purchase, varies in size from small drawings to massive 16x8ft paintings produced on materials from the site itself. The larger paintings are produced from a space on the 48th floor of the Silverstein 7 World Trade Center.
“I would love to bring an exhibition of REBUILDING back to Belfast,” said Marcus.
“Belfast has a very warm place in my heart. I know from my father, he died just a couple of years ago and he would have been very thrilled to know that his vision of how he thought this project would come to be would be some how honored in Belfast.”
As the project progresses, U.S. news stations and New York political players have begun to take an interest in REBUILDING.
“There so many highlights, but some of the many exciting things that have happened
include being asked to make a version of the film for Mayor Bloomberg’s press conference a couple of years ago updating the world’s press on progress on the site,” said Marcus.
“It was funny having all these big New York dignitaries in the room and my little film going out. Various cuts of the film have been used for quite a lot of these showcase events showing just how the site has evolved.”
After REBUILDING, Marcus hopes to do a series of maritime paintings.
“Over the years I’ve done a lot of paintings of the Port of Belfast and it is a theme very close to my heart as my father worked in Harland and Wolff as a ship draftsman in the 1940s,” he said.
“I feel a very close place in my heart for the whole Port of Belfast so I’ve got a series of maritime paintings that I would to do on different ports around the world such as New York and London, Rotterdam.
“I’m trying to film right up until the end of the whole process of rebuilding here and then the film might come out in 2015/16. Hopefully by then we can do something really exciting in Belfast to share it with the people in Belfast, and maybe even have the premiere there.”
For more information on the work of Marcus Robinson, visit www.marcusrobinsonart.com.