The Telectroscope was built by artist/inventor Paul St. George and connects New York and London via a massive tunnel you can look through and see out the other end.
In all its optical brilliance and brass and wood, there stood the Telectroscope: an 11.2-meter-(37 feet) long by 3.3-meter-(11 feet) tall dream of a device allowing people on one side of the Atlantic to look into its person-size lens and, in real time, see those on the other side via a recently completed tunnel running under the ocean. (Think 19th-century Webcam. Or maybe Victorian-age video phone.)
“The Telectroscope started off as a totally unintentional hoax in the 1870s,” explains St George, who is the leading expert on this forgotten backwater of Victorian technology. “It came about through an error. A French editor misread a report about the invention of a thing called the Electroscope – which is all to do with static electricity – and called it a Telectroscope. He also misinterpreted its purpose. “The fascinating thing is that his misunderstanding of what it did – to communicate face to face over a vast distance – really caught fire.
Needless to say there is no such massive tunnel. The end portals were just made to look like they’re heading through the earth. In actuality, they’re connected via “fiber optic cabling, and an HD camera and projector on either end provide live streaming video. But who really cares, you can still look in one end of this device in New York and see out the other in London. You’ll find one end next to the Brooklyn Bridge, and the other across the pond, next to Tower Bridge.”
The Telectroscope captured St. George’s imagination five years ago, when he began pondering how to do a project on the childhood fantasy of digging a hole to the opposite side of the Earth. And because the artist also happens to have an expertise in Victorian chronophotography — a precursor to cinematography — he had a slight idea of where to look for the proper equipment.
“We all have that idea in our head if we could make a tunnel to the other side of the Earth,” St. George said.”But we are not all crazy enough to actually try and do it.”
St. George was crazy enough to actually try and do it, but he realized he could not do the digging alone. So about two years ago, he pitched the idea to Artichoke, the British arts group responsible for taking the Sultan’s Elephant — a 42-ton mechanical creature — for a stroll through central London in 2006. The company was immediately taken by St. George’s idea.
“The whole thing is about seeing what is real and what isn’t real and how the world is,” said Nicki Webb, a co-founder of Artichoke. “Is it nighttime when we are in daytime, and does it look familiar to us or not?”
When the sun illuminated the lens of the Telectroscope next to the Thames, it was, of course, still nighttime in New York. So the screen inside the scope broadcast back only an empty sidewalk silently framed by the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan skyline.
But then something miraculous occurred.