They are initially held stationary in a Perspex reservoir at the top of the machine. They are disengaged and indifferent, an object constructed as a body for a number, the abstract figure. Specifically weighted and bounce tested, it is a carrier whose shape and material is determined by the most compulsory logistical requirements – a sphere in order to roll, plastic to endure repeated collisions and remain intact. It is an object commensurate with its task as a vessel, although it doesnt entirely escape aesthetic consideration. Luridly coloured in the strange palette of highlighter pens, they are named according to Old World fantasy, of quests and precious stones. A laboured attempt to characterize the bodies, dress them for the spectacle they will become constitutive of. Yet this is only ever intended as a costume to fit the proceeding theatrics, not an identity that pierces to the heart of the objects. That could lead to a charge of potential discrimination, and this is the business of bare algorithms we are engaged in. For any anxiety just refer to the numerical figure, printed 16 times across each bodys face.
At the click of a button chaos ensues. The trap door at the base of the reservoir opens and the balls spill into the second chamber, a perspex sphere complete with a three pronged metal armature, steadily turning. Awoken from passivity they cascade down into the arena to be subjected to a period of intense action – obstruction, redirection, constraint and collision. The first movements being the formal pull of gravity on the bodies towards the base of the sphere. The lucky numbers make it unscathed, but others meet the full force of the first arm, knocked outward and rebounding off the concave border. A volatile pinball motion now articulates these bodies, where the merest degree of angle absolutely changes the pathways taken through the space. Many of the balls collect at the base of the sphere as a mass of vibrating bodies, pinned in on every side by their colleagues (competitors).
A packed crowd becomes a stampede, a dense flow becomes a congestion – a small change in the configuration of the constituted elements where the origin is always opaque, the moment absolutely imperceptible, and culpability largely impossible. The tension increases almost anticipating the second arm that reaches in, grasping indiscriminately as it pushes through the masses forcefully dispersing bodies in all directions. Released again into the open air pent up energy can finally be expended and bodies launch upwards directly towards the third arm of the machine. Some entirely miss it, while others feel the full impact of its hand – a sweet connection, swatted away purposefully to the boundary.
At this stage the currency is kinetic energy, restless motion and erratic trajectories. Intense periods trapped in the claustrophobic depths of the crowd, ejected through the open sphere, brutal impacts with other bodies and the boundary. The inert bodies of the reservoir have become charged, undergoing the cycle numerous times but always circulating in a different manner. Whether it can be called a circulation is another matter; that would imply a determined path that is clearly devoid in the temperamental movements. The bodies travel with no destination, only direction, duration and obstruction.
Until the hatch at the base of the sphere slides open to release a single ball, ushered out along the designated path coming to rest with a slightly deflated bump. Indiscriminate motion is paused as the body halts and its number crystallizes as a concrete entity positioned in the world. A key moment in that the disclosure of the numerical figure formalizes what was previously abstract and indifferent as a partisan selection, a matter of grave concern. A body that was wholly generic (replacements are kept on standby) is now extremely specific, as it has undergone a unique process in a certain state of time. The currency is converted from kinetic energy to potential financial viability, but at this stage it is still only a minor tremor of excitement. The fact is that this vessel is still as likely to have delivered impotence than vitality. Meanwhile, in the sphere chaos continues to erupt as further trajectories are produced and bodies continue to hustle.
3 vessels now sit idle on the track bearing their numerical faces. Large swathes of the audience have been turned off (many barely even turned up), disgruntled by the inevitability of it all. For them the whole spectacle recedes back into the facile charade they always knew it was, a non-event, probably a fix. But the transparency of the sphere insists on us as witnesses to the democratic process by which the bodies are arbitrarily selected. They are not so much chosen as they just occur, a product of motion and duration combining in some inscrutable fashion. We see this, it happens before our very eyes. Imagine the trauma and suspicion if the sphere was made as an opaque shell. A carved wooden bowl, a polished steel dome. It would produce a more striking sound than the current obtuse noise of plastic against plastic. Perhaps soothing like a rainstick, or a more violent simulation of spraying bullets. But this is too aesthetic, too considerate and ultimately too contrived. The price you pay for transparency.
The minority of viewers are still on the edge of their seats, gripped with anticipation. They are guaranteed a return but nothing particularly satisfying, and certainly short of their wildest imagination. It is the next 3 vessels that are pivotal, that provide closure, that eliminate all other possibilities. As the final body rolls into place it is met by fireworks, swirling synths, stirring fanfare and quite possibly a flying cork (it is a bonus after all). Thousands of pink paper tickets can now be safely disposed as worthless, along with the various strategies of selection. Psycho-trickery, numeromancy, tenuous tradition or the hesitant draw of the biro to particular figures and columns on the paper for no identifiable reason. All this bias and feckless prediction has been subjected to bare algorithm, pure mechanics, or in other words democracy. And you cant argue with the result.
[N.B. Elaine deceives Lancelot into conceiving a son through the use of a magic ring. The deception has been orchestrated on the basis of the prophecy in which the child born is destined to attain the Holy Grail. By easily accomplishing tests of character, Galahad is knighted at the courts of Camelot, confirming his future by taking up the seat reserved by Merlin at the Round Table for the One. A vision-image-apparition-projection of the grail at the court inspires a quest to obtain the holy object. Sea voyage, righteous wrath, smiting and distressed virgins follow. On retrieving the Grail Galahad transports the vessel to the holy city only to confront another vision-image-apparition-projection, Joseph of Arimathea, only this time in joyous rapture. On fulfilling his destiny he chooses to die, that is to say becomes immortalized, citing exhaustion (and perhaps fear of retirement).
This heavily embellished, fragmented legend has been consistently restored, revised and reformed. Camelot is a romantic construction of landscaped images, medieval courtroom drama and archeological speculation. The Holy Grail is imported into the narrative at some point and translated from the profane to the sacred. Its uses are fairly cursory in reference, but conspiracies, histories and poetry about its symbolism abound. And Galahad is an actor variously in support of chivalry, chastity, predestination and satire. Not just a library of thread-safe Fortran packages for solving nonlinear optimization problems.]