I Want To Blow Up (a model of) The Palace of Holyroodhouse (for art): Research Day 2

Events, Politics, Rambles


This is the auto-surveillance report of the second day of research for the performance project I Want To Blow Up (a model of) The Palace Of Holyroodhouse (for art)

On 21st March 2014, between 1800 and 2100 hours, Harry Giles did use the following Google search terms:

  • Control of Explosives Regulations 1991
  • Air Bag Inflator
  • can you blow something up with an airbag
  • Amino Dinitrophenol
  • what is Amino Dinitrophenol for
  • Ammonium Picrate
  • What is wetted ammonium picrate
  • how do theatre pyrotechnics work
  • What is UN no. 0428
  • pyrotechnics
  • pyroguide
  • what pyrotechnics are unlicensed
  • What is barium azide
  • oil well cartridge
  • oil’s well
  • “what is an oil well cartridge”
  • “explosive cable cutter”
  • “how does an explosive cable cutter work”
  • can you blow stuff up with emergency flares
  • emergency flare explosion
  • blowing up a model
  • minature explosion
  • small explosion

and access the following websites:

His research was retweeted or otherwise engaged with by the following people publicly on Twitter:

  • @amaenad
  • @oneferny
  • @Max_Scratchmann
  • @atarbuck
  • @kieran_hurley
  • @pennysuperdog
  • @rvwable
  • @mrjvarney
  • @lorelei_
  • @kathrynbeaumont
  • @hinesjumpedup
  • @colonpress
  • @t3xtur3
  • @AnathemaJane
  • @BexAtkinsonLord
  • @kevmcveigh
  • @hannahnicklin

and by 12 further people at the Camden People’s Theatre, whose names were unrecorded.

His research questions were:

  • Are there any UNLICENSED EXPLOSIVES which would make a SATISFYING EXPLOSION?
  • Is becoming a LICENSED EXPLOSIVES ENGINEER feasible?
  • Could AIR OR WATER be used to make a SATISFYING EXPLOSION?

His conclusions were:

The majority of my time was spent with the HSE list of unlicensed explosives, to determine whether or not any of them could satisfyingly explode a model palace. Over the course of the research, I determined that the unlicensed explosives were either (a) Chemical components or minor explosives equipment which could not make a big enough legal explosion to destroy a model palace; (b) Fireworks and pyrotechnics which I would need to consult with a pyro engineer about the use of; or (c) Airbags.

The function of the COER exclusion list appeared to be to make the handling and transport of the components of industrial explosives less hampered by regulation, and to support the pyrotechnics industry. A large proportion of the list defined the threshold of water suspension which made an explosive chemical unlicensed, presumably for transport and handling by uncertified engineers while in a “safe” state. This created an interesting analogue with speech acts about terrorism: there is a level of water suspension which makes nitrocellulose legal for anyone to own, but as the nitrocellulose dries out it crosses a semi-arbitrary threshold where it becomes illegal. Similarly and unsimilarly, it is possible to talk about blowing things up, but if you cross an arbitrary threshold of dangerousness or terroristishness, your speech becomes illegal. The legal water saturation level has a mathematical description, but the legal terroristishness level of speech has yet to be clearly defined by courts and is already a legal struggle.

Apart from exclusions like airbags and bolt-cutters — equipment which is technically explosive but doesn’t need regulation — the function of the COER legislation is to support industry, and make it really clear what the parameters for making a profit from explosives are. It is notable that the legislation around terrorism isn’t half so clear about what the parameters for freedom of speech are.

There are two options from the unlicensed explosives list which might feasibly blow up a model palace. An airbag explosion, as documented by many youtube videos, including a satisfying one of a pumpkin, could definitely destroy a model palace. However, it wouldn’t “look” like an explosion. It would destroy a model, but without any satisfying flames or smoke. I began to realise that the aesthetics of the explosion were important to me. I wanted the explosion to “feel” dangerous or terroristish — close enough to something illegal, without actually being illegal. This is an intractable aesthetic problem, because I want something that feels terroristish enough to scare an audience but is not terroristish enough to scare the police.

Fireworks and pyrotechnics offer another options. However, I’m reluctant to pursue this approach, because I feel some commitment to do this project DIY. Also, using shiny theatrical explosives feels like “cheating”. I want this to feel like an explosion that anyone could do at home, with enough time and budget.

I decided to shelve both the airbag and the fireworks. I then began to look at very simple homemade explosives. Three options presented themselves from cursory YouTube searches: a flour bomb, a lithium bomb, and a molotov cocktail. All would provide small, relatively-controlled but dangerous-looking explosions, and all involve very simple unlicensed ingredients. However, I’m not totally convinced that all of them are legal and safe.

My research questions for the next performance, at Glasgow Buzzcut in April, are:

  • Determine whether a flour bomb, lithium bomb or molotov cocktail would be both explosive enough and safe enough to meet my requirements.
  • Contact the police and ask if making a flour bomb, lithium bomb or molotov cocktail might be legal under controlled theatrical circumstances.
  • Research safety parameters which could control said explosions.
  • Contact fireworks and pyrotechnics engineers to see if anyone is willing to consult with me about my questions.

Legal Disclaimer:

  • All the information I am accessing is to be used only for blowing up a small scale model of the Palace of Holyroodhouse in a safe and legal manner.
  • I neither condone nor encourage the actual blowing up of actual public buildings, and will not be sharing my research with anyone who does in an encouraging way.
  • Any websites I link to here or on Twitter are for information or humour purposes only, should not be used for acts of terrorism, and can be found by a very basic Google search anyway.

I Want to Blow Up (a model of) the Palace of Holyroodhouse (for art) is a performance project about:

  • Rage and its uses
  • Free speech and its limits
  • Art and its effectiveness
  • Surveillance and the state

The performance consists of the three phases: (1) the active period of research involved in figuring out how to build a scale model of Holyroodhouse and then legally blow it up, which will take place in public, preferably in arts venues; (2) the actual blowing up of the model Palace; (3) a performance lecture about how and why I did it and what happened. If you have access to space in an arts venue and would like me to research bomb-making in your space, please get in touch.

Please note, I will be recording all documentary evidence of this project, up to and including my private thoughts on the matter, in an auto-surveillance dossier in order to spare the public purse. Please note that all comments and mentions of this post will thus be monitored for monitoring purposes.



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