Ever Heard the Thunder of Hooves at Hadrian’s Wall? Unique mechanical installation at Chesters Roman Fort Recreates Sound of 500 Cavalry Horses

Ever Heard the Thunder of Hooves at Hadrian’s Wall? Unique mechanical installation at Chesters Roman Fort Recreates Sound of 500 Cavalry Horses

Imagine yourself: a battle-weary Pict awaiting your fate at the hands of the ruthlessly disciplined Roman Cavalry, and then you hear the sound of 2,000 hooves.

Brand new art installation at Chesters Roman Fort creates a unique way to experience Hadrian's Cavalry exhibition. Cavalry 360° is the first 'sound' installation for English Heritage and evokes the thundering sound of 500 cavalry horses who were once stationed at Chesters Roman Fort  in the 2nd century.

The Cavalry were the backbone of the Roman frontier garrisons and projected the power and splendour of Imperial Rome.  A force to be reckoned with, they were the key to the security of the Roman Frontiers; protecting and defending the Roman Empire. 

To demonstrate this catalyst of fear and anticipation, English Heritage has commissioned an exceptional art installation to recreate the sound of 500 cavalry horses at Chesters Roman Fort, near Hexham  – as heard in the 2nd century – when the garrison was a hub for the elite of the Roman auxiliary forces.    

‘Cavalry 360°’, created by award winning design practice NEON, will present a vast site specific musical instrument which uses the force of the wind to create the sound of the cavalry moving across the landscape. 

This extraordinary mechanical installation, standing 3.5m high and measuring 12 meters across ‘Cavalry 360’ has been commissioned by English Heritage as part of the multi-partner Arts Council England-funded Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibition across the Roman wall.  32 wind turbines will drive hundreds of mini beaters to generate an ever changing equine rhythm at this internationally important site on the banks of the North Tyne.’

‘This should be an incredible experience for our visitors’, says Kevin Booth, Senior Curator at English Heritage, ‘a bespoke piece of work in a remarkable setting that will be both thought-provoking and fun.  It is designed to connect the viewer with the environment, to invite people to look through the work at the landscape beyond, to pick up the sound on the wind, to experience the beaters working at differing speeds as the wind rises and falls – and as the horse gallops or trots.  It will place you in the midst of a busy garrison, or give you a sense of a Roman cavalryman mid charge or as an aggressor awaiting their fate.  Our ethos of ‘bringing history to life’ is perfectly encapsulated in this unique installation.  This really is a once in a lifetime event and a first for English Heritage.’

Mark Nixon, artist whose company NEON created the installation, says:

'This was an incredibly ambitious and challenging brief that called for a project that would retell the story of the Chester’s Cavalry in a way that would be engaging and exciting as well as drawing a new audience to the fort.

The challenge of describing something that was no longer physically there, the Cavalry - and acknowledging the way the horse changed mankind’s relationship to the landscape were key to our approach for the commission. Like written fiction we were excited to offer a half description of the subject as a means of evoking the imagination of the viewer to fill in the gaps. The horse as a creature evokes a wide range of visual and audial motifs that gave us a rich palette from which to draw on. 

This piece has been no easy feat to achieve and has involved a long process of iterative testing over a period of six months to ensure that the visitor experience will match the artistic intent. Alongside the experiential development of the artwork, much work has been done to ensure that the piece meets all of the engineering and technical constraints that come with building on such historic ground.

We hope that Cavalry 360° will provide the visitor to Chesters with a fantastic and mesmerising experience and help to cement English Heritage’s position as an organisation that is working at the cutting edge of visitor experience.’

Cavalry 360° will be open to the public at Chesters Roman Fort from 26 July 2017.

Hadrian’s Cavalry is an exhibition taking place at ten museums and heritage attractions across the full length of Hadrian’s Wall until 10 September 2017.

Celebrating the elite Roman cavalry regiments that guarded Hadrian’s Wall and projected the power of Imperial Rome 2,000 years ago, Hadrian’s Cavalry is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for visitors to explore the role and daily life of the cavalry forces of the Roman army.

The exhibition features a range of remarkable and finely decorated Roman cavalry objects - including cavalry helmets and ornate armour - as well as a series of re-enactment events at attractions across the 150-mile long World Heritage Site - from Maryport in the west to South Shields in the east. The objects include loans from national and international museums and private collections alongside finds from sites across Hadrian’s Wall.

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