We modern consumers of digital art tend to think we’re different from, say, the kinds of neolithic tribespeople that spent all their time building stone circles. But, harnessing the power of public sculpture, artist Bobby Lloyd suggests that we could be mistaken …

Henry Tudor Pole  |  Ed Kiran Sajan  | 12 December 2020

Bobby Lloyd, Lay Lines 2018, cast concrete. © Courtesy of the artist.

Lay Lines (2018): a sculpture by Lloyd comprising several concrete cylinders, arranged in three circles on Enderby Wharf, London, right by the river. The largest circle consists of a central cylinder, wider than it is tall, surrounded by eight smaller drums. At first glance: an arty outdoors picnic table with hard chairs. On further inspection: the top of a vast, concrete fibre-optic cable poking out of the Thames Path. 

The second circle is simply that: a wide concrete prism emerging from the ground. It is constructed according to the same dimensions as the wire in a submarine telephone cable. The third stone circle has several smaller cylinders irregularly spaced around the central drum. It represents the cross-section of an old, worn-out telegraph cable. Stone circles, communication technologies, Lay Lines. See where this is heading? 

Bobby Lloyd, Untitled (paper montage of cross-section of a 1970s telephone cable), 2018. © Courtesy of the artist.

The concept of ‘ley lines’ was formulated by Alfred Watkins in 1921. He had a profound revelation when he noticed that the English landscape was criss-crossed by a network of dead straight ancient paths. He travelled the land in search of more, found many, and concluded that they were built by the pre-Roman inhabitants of Britain, linking sacred sites and monuments together, and constituting a surprisingly efficient infrastructure for a neolithic people. 

With his hugely influential book The View Over Atlantis, author John Michell projected Watkins’ observations resoundingly into the 1960s. For Michell, ley lines were more than roads- they were the channels of a spiritual/magnetic energy that traversed the entire globe. Ley lines were found everywhere, passing through the sacralised landscapes of Peru, the stone monuments of Britain, the pyramids of Egypt, and the ‘dragon paths’ or lung mei of China. This system of Earth energy sustained an ancient, global civilisation: Atlantis.

Bobby Lloyd, Photograph of a fibre-optic cable, (2018). © Courtesy of the artist.

The title of Lloyd’s 2018 sculpture punningly alludes to this legendary energy network. It also productively exploits the coincidence that if you blow up the size of a fibre-optic cable hundreds of times and turn it to stone, it starts to resemble Stonehenge. Neolithic monuments like it occupied significant positions at the intersections of ley lines, points where the energy was supposed to be strongest. Fibre-optic cables are, of course, a key part of the infrastructure of our modern, globalised system of communication: the internet. 

The location of Lay Lines on Enderby Wharf is intrinsic to the artwork’s subject of invisible systems organising the world. Close by is a site where submarine cables have been manufactured since 1857. It is paces away from the prime meridian. Opposite, across the Thames, is a contemporary commercial temple cluster: Canary Wharf, locus of financial energy. 

Bobby Lloyd, Lay Lines, time-lapse (2018). © Courtesy of the artist.

Although the dragon paths remain sequestered by the Great Firewall of China, our modern communications network is at an order of magnitude similar to that of its Atlantean antecedent. But the two systems – the internet and ley lines – operate according to divergent principles. While the mythological network of ley lines facilitated the movement of geodetic energy, spiritual beings and, according to Michell, giant blocks of masonry through the air, the contemporary internet is based on the flow and exchange of data. 

Data is our version of spirit, coursing through the planet and giving life to the anthropocene. Computers process this data and transform it into information, which humans wield to exercise our will. Like the Atlanteans, we are masters of the world. Too bad the consequence of this power seems to be our own destruction, along with millions of animals and ecosystems.

Bobby Lloyd, Lay Lines, cast concrete (2018). © Courtesy of the artist.

Our data-driven systems have implications for life on Earth, and also for the distribution of power amongst its inhabitants. Most human beings are not masters but suppliers of this energy to tech companies such as Google and Facebook, large corporations and state powers, all of whom have a financial, material and ultimately existential interest in maintaining their control over the flow of our data. It’s a smart, scary system. The artwork Ley Lines is useful insofar as it provokes thought about precedents for this system, mythological or otherwise, and about how extravagantly strange our world is. It’s also great for picnics. 

About the artist

Bobby Lloyd, Lay Lines (2018) © Courtesy of the artist.

Bobby Lloyd is a visual artist based in Hackney, London, who has worked both independently and collaboratively on public and private projects for three decades, including digital art. She is also an art therapist and a teacher.

artist Website

Key Achievements

A trustee for 8 years of Art Refuge she became its first CEO in 2016. Since then she has led a team of art therapists and visual artists in delivering an ongoing arts-based psychosocial project with refugees on the France-UK border and Art RefugeK’s development as a lead UK charity in the field of art therapy and refugees.

Past Shows and Fair booths

Solo Shows

2015      Black Light Open Studio at Tate Modern as part of the ‘Light and Dark Matters’ series, w/ Sally Labern

2015      Black Light in the Transport Museum, Bury Light Night, Bury – the drawing shed

2014      Artificial Sunshine: Black Light installation, Bury Light night, Bury – the drawing shed

2014      Neighbour : Stranger & The Public Typing Pool, Bury Text Festival, Bury Sculpture Centre w/ Sally Labern

2013      Stranger : Neighbour & The Lost Print, Winns Gallery, Lloyd Park, London E17

Group Shows

2017       EmpireII @ La Bienalle Di Venezia, May-November, short film, Immersive Cinema, Venice, Italy –

also shown in London, Kendal, Berlin, Brussels, Estonia (2018), Mexico (2018)

2015      ‘InhabitingSpace’, dis-placed, with Counterpoint Arts, The Ditch, Shoreditch Town Hall

2015       Black Light, Sunday in the Park with Ed, with Sally Labern, Display Gallery, London EC1A

2014       IdeasFromElse[W]here: Arts Lab curated by the drawing shed w/ Jordan McKenzie, Winns Gallery

2010-2012   Twitter, estate signage, PeopleLikeUs Collective, E17 Arts Trail – the drawing shed

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