Michele Horrigan Back

Cast aluminium sculpture, video

The apex of the Washington Monument weighs precisely one hundred ounces, and was put in place in the United States capital in December 1884. Measuring 22.6 cm high, it was made of aluminium, the most precious metal in the world at that time. The ceremony for the placement of the apex appeared as a sketch on the front page of the Washington Post. While the art of photography was well established by then, gale force winds and driving rain at the summit of the monument precluded the taking of an actual photo, and an artist’s sketch of the event had to suffice. As with its appearance on the dollar note, the apex’s symbolism derived from the vocabulary of freemasonry and the idea of an all-seeing eye – a way of casting a net over all the activity below it as a form of imperialist overview.

In the time before its installation on the actual monument, the apex was put on public display in the window of Tiffany’s jewellery store in New York and could be viewed and examined by visitors, who were also allowed to ‘step over the top of the Washington Monument.’ Compounding this, two years later, the Hall-Heroult process made aluminium easier to produce, and its value plummeted, so depreciating the symbolic and material value of the apex.

Thinking about this inversion, I cast a replica during a residency at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop in 2013. This object was subsequently placed inside a jewellery store window in Galway with a video of the casting process viewed in a gallery nearby.