As work on the building began, firstsite commissioned artist Sarah Sabin to respond to the process of its construction.

Using laboratory facilities at at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, she investigated the site of the new building, collecting samples of the infill material – sourced from the demolition of the nearby Colchester Garrison – used to build up firstsite’s construction site (firstsite lies on Scheduled Ancient Monument land, so the building could not have foundations dug). The artist was particularly interested in the fact that the new building was supported by infill material all from one site, and with that site’s military history.

The samples Sabin collected were crushed and milled into a powder then compacted in wax pellets. Exhibited here is a selection of these pellets, along with other objects created and used by the artist in her investigations.

Sabin is interested in ideas of truth and authenticity, and to this end, each unique pellet was analysed in an x-ray fluorescence machine to reveal the substances it contains. Data that could not be captured by the machine was subjected by Sabin to a more playful, speculative analysis.

Of Gunpowder and Gold explores our reliance on trusting scientific results and facts. Is the data analysis from each of Sabin’s pellets true or has she fabricated elements to imbue them with new narratives? Her work makes apparent how a certain amount of deduction and interpretation occurs, even in scientific processes. The analysis data presented here refers to only one analysed sample, to indicate materials that could be located on this very site.

Sabin recorded the progress of her commission through photography, drawings and notes, which form the basis of a new book, with an essay by Jordan Kaplan, available to buy from firstsite’s shop. The pellets are for sale as limited-edition artworks, each accompanied by its analysis, and the book, in a presentation box.

  • Dimensions: 2.5m x 2.5 m x 18cm approx
  • Artforms: Installation
  • Tags: Mixed media