22 Sep 2014 | By Sun International
Exploring Art: the Armillary and Seals at Grandwest Casino
South Africa's largest entertainment complex of its kind – the GrandWest Casino and Entertainment World in Cape Town – was designed to capture the vintage days of Cape Town's past, with building facades reflecting traditional Cape Town aesthetics, from the beautiful sculptured Victorian architecture to the vibrant streets of District Six and down to the grace of the Grand Hotel.
Besides being centrally located within easy access to Cape Town's many attractions, GrandWest is a universe of entertainment under one roof. It comes as no surprise then, that the sculpture chosen to depict Cape Town's unique cultural heritage, as well as the property's universal entertainment appeal, is one that includes a Victorian Armillary.
The artist behind the work
Local artist Keith Calder whose sculptures can be viewed at other must-visit Sun International properties, including the Sibaya Casino and Entertainment Kingdom in Durban, and the Boardwalk Casino and Entertainment World in Port Elizabeth, created a sculpture that both reflects the Victorian architecture of the property while also adding a touch old-worldly charm.
The brief provided to Keith was to create an artwork that offered an insight into Cape Town's unique personality, while harking back to Victorian times.
Cape Fur Seals are a big part of coastal life in Cape Town, and can be seen frolicking on the jetty at the V&A Waterfront, soaking up the sun just off the coast of Hout Bay, and slipping between the yachts at the small harbour in Simonstown. However, the seals depicted in the artwork at the GrandWest Casino are not captured in playful games or lazy repose: these seals are carrying a universe on their chests in the form of a Victorian Armillary.
What is an armillary?
An armillary sphere is a model of objects in the sky (in the celestial sphere), consisting of a spherical framework of rings, centred on Earth, that represent lines of celestial longitude and latitude and other astronomically important features such as the path of the sun. Its construction aims to show either the real motion of the earth, or the apparent motion of the heavens.
If you've ever been to Cape Town and felt that you're at the centre of the earth, or at the very least, at the centre of all that's happening, this armillary perfectly captures that feeling.
As an artist, Keith Calder favours an organic approach to his work. He enjoys creative freedom, and allows an idea to evolve naturally, which means it's often different (but improved) from the maquette (scale model). But because of the precise structural reasoning to the Armillary and Seals, there was no room for Calder to deviate from the original concept.
He approached the seals as he does all his bigger works: carving first from polystyrene or polyurethane before finishing the details in clay wax, and then casting in bronze. The Armillary, however, because it is a motorised moving object, was made from steel and clad in bronze. The work was a collaboration between Calder and another artist – Rado Kirov – with Calder overseeing the creation.
This piece required critical positioning. All four seals had to be set-up perfectly, in order to bear the weight of the armillary. Calder made an exact template of the armillary, and positioned the seals up according to this. The template was then destroyed, and a crane lowered the armillary onto the seals, where it rests with little more than placement pins holding it in position.
Fun fact: Originally, a motor was hidden in the chest of one of the seals, and this powered the constant movement of the armillary. For several reasons, the motor was later removed to a more accessible position.
GrandWest has become one of South Africa's most visited casinos, and offers a 4-star hotel, an ice-skating rink, and an entertainment area that contains fairground attractions. There are cinemas, a dance club, a live music venue, numerous restaurants and pubs, and a crèche so that parents can take some time off to enjoy everything on offer.
It certainly is a world of entertainment under one roof.
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