1: How Long Is a Piece of String? – Medieval & Modern Measuring

1: How Long Is a Piece of String? – Medieval & Modern Measuring

Posted · Add Comment
Artwork from the creative workshop 'Measuring to the Saint' with artist Michelle Rumney at the Map of Mundi exhibition at Lighthouse Poole

How Long Is a Piece of String? Medieval & Modern Measuring

The Map of Mundi Exhibition: One of 5 Weekly Themes

I was in the gallery 3 days per week, working – exploring a different theme each week, engaging with visitors and running workshops for both the public and for special groups:

Week 1 theme:

Medieval & Modern Measuring

Some of the artwork in this exhibition was inspired by the Medieval practice of Measuring to the Saint – measuring a person from head to foot. Time and space were measured and experienced quite differently in those days – find out just how long a league and a furlong are, see how far medieval hours and minutes went and where your own length in string might lead you…


My idea here was to invite in local people who would enjoy general themes of the show during this first week… they can come for an hour, a day, the whole week – and come back any time during the whole 5 weeks too. My aim was to spark and bounce ideas, learn from each other… see what evolves. I also intended to take the edge of that huge blank curved exhibition wall that dominates the gallery space – and to start adding other people’s expression onto it.

What we did:

This was a colourful workshop for Lighthouse staff on a day when the arts centre was not open to the public, leaving them free to ‘play’ without interruptions. First, we measured each other ‘to the Saint’ with coloured ribbons. Yes, it felt and looked silly at times, but it’s an icebreaker and quite profound to look a colleague in the eye, however well you think you know them, and measure them from head to foot! Everyone measured everyone else and so all ended up with the same number of ribbons.

Next, I instructed everyone to tie all the ribbons they had end-to-end to make one long length. Walk around the building, notice something, tie one end of your ribbon to it, then unravel the rest and let it lead you to somewhere else. Wherever that is, there will no doubt be something interesting, or intriguing, or something you hadn’t noticed before. My disclaimer was that I’ve only ever tried this in a medieval building before, where there really always is something very interesting at the end of each length… who knows whether an 80s arts centre would stand the measuring test!?


Well, what do you know? It’s amazing what you don’t notice, even when you work day-in, day-out in the same building. We found a plant in the foyer that hadn’t quite made it into the pot intended for it. We found stains, cracks and strange marks on the walls. We found a very out-of-date ‘Free Wifi’ sign, no longer needed. And more… the displaced objects were removed or tended to, the ‘unseen’ became seen, the experience of familiar spaces shifter, just by measuring them with a method that was in use over 900 years ago.

At the end of the workshop, I pinned the ribbons on the ‘Wall of Time’ in the gallery and invited everyone who took part to drop in later throughout the exhibition and see how it was unfolding.

  • staff joined in and kept popping back in
  • awareness of the exhibition was raised internally
  • the Wall of Time starting to evolve telling the ‘story’ of the exhibition
  • new conversations opened up about the building and spaces within it

1: How Long Is a Piece of String? – Medieval & Modern Measuring was last modified: July 23rd, 2020 by Michelle Rumney

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *