I’ve been making some video work about the largest uninterrupted roundabout in the UK, called ‘Half Mile Island‘ near Skemersdale in Lancashire (itself famous for it’s large roundabouts and complete lack of traffic lights). It’s 880 yards around and has a 40 mph speed limit. The surroundings are supremely dull.
During research on the roundabouts of the uk I unearthed the image below of ‘The Magic Roundabout’ in Swindon. It’s a work of art…
I enjoyed playing my field recordings at Binary Jam 017 this week. The crowd were very attentive and gave my recording a chance to be heard. The recordings themselves are quite quiet, so it was much appreciated. Here is the final mix. Fifteen one minute clips were recorded, in order, in rooms 1 to 15 of the gallery and respresent the aural experience of a visitor travelling chronologicallythrough the galleryfrom the medieval period through to the late 20th Century.
A final soundscape records the ambient sounds during the ‘The Art Books of Henri Matisse’ private view, later that day.
It was a good opportunity for me to listen to these works in the context of a live event. It worked well I think. I was able to introduce the works and explain them a little then, after the performance, could talk a bit abit about my experiences making the recordings and how it had changed the way I look at formal exhibition spaces. If these sounds were played back on headphones or in a sound sculpture, this wouldn’t have been quite so easy to do. Each method had it’s own benefits, but I’m grateful to Markus Soukup and Sound Network for the chance to experiment.
In relation to what I’ve learned during making these recordings recently, I’d like to record some observations. Sitting in a gallery listening, rather than looking, is quite a strange expereince. Individual works quickly coalesce into a ‘body of art’ which is inert, hanging or sitting there very passively. In the rooms containing very old works (rooms 1 and 2, medeival art, and 3 and 4 for example) I got a real sense that the paintings spent 99 percent of their existance immersed in relative silence. They were empty for the hour or so I was in there apart from the odd individual. I say relative silence because I quickly became aware of the many sounds occuring at low frequencies and and high frequencies. Old paintings, on the face of it, appear to require a very controlled enviroment, there is a low rumble of dehumidifiers, and the high pitched beeping or various sensitive electronic measuring devices. It began to sound like some sort of life support mechanism, as if the paintings are kept in some sort of stasis. The passage of time for these works appears to have essentially stopped. What thay says about our relationship to history I’m not yet sure. It certainly suggests that ‘history’ as we have constructed it is frozen, to what purpose?
Spending time with the gallery spaces also made me aware of the empty space in front of the works, the space that countless people have and will inhabit, including the artist himself. The sense of all that is constantly changing while we have this artefact which we are willing to stay the same. Thinking about it this way, if I were to imagine a 1 m square of space directly in front of each painting and make that the subject of these sound pieces, would that highlight the tension between our urge to collect/organise/conserve and the unpredictable reality of passing time?
Invrstigation into the science fiction narrative has openened my eyes to the whole spectrum of the genre, both good and bad, and there’s no shortage of material. I feel like I could keep buying cheap sci fi paperbacks for the rest of my life and never get close to reading them all…I’ve decided to keep a track of some of the more interesing ones to remind me of the highs and lows of this research.
This beauty was from Oxfam on Bold St in Liverpool, and was quite pricey at 99p. It was published in 1972 and reads like it. The story is about a computer engineer that’s been called to Cybernia, a small US town that is, on the surface, controlled by a computer which has started to act strangely. As you’d expect, there’s more to it than a crazy computer, and our hero gets into numerous life threatening situations before we meet the usual meglomanical bad guy in his mansion on the hill for the final showdown.
The story is…average. What is interesting is the paranoia, there’s paranoia about the process of automation, paranoia about motives of the government and paranoia about undercover survaillance (this was written around the time of the watergate scandle, and it shows). What’s also great is that the main character, Ross MacLean, is a computer programmer but is not a geek, I think this was written before concept of computer nerd became a sterotype. Maclean is more like an engineer, all burly forearms and womanising with snapper patter about FORTRAN and data cables. There are some saucy bits and hints at the end of the sexual revolution. His character reminded me of the macho men who often featured in Guy N Smith books like Night of the Crabs
All in all, Cybernia is not a bad read, I can’t say it helped my research much other than confirming that the 70’s started out as a paranoid decade, and just got worse. This particular vision of the future was of people oppressed by machines and their government. I could imagine someone writing exactly the same book today, forty years later (apart from the mysogyny).
I enjoyed reading this article by Michael Chabon about the Clock of the Long Now. The clock, built inside a mountain in western Texas, is designed to run for 10,000 years. It’s been built to run for approximately the same amount of time human civilaisation has existed, suggesting that we’re now in the middle of our species’ epic journey through time. In a period in which we’ve been faced with the finalities of nuclear annihilation and catastrophic climate change, it’s refreshing to come across an organisation which attempts to build a structure which gives us a conceptual space to thinkabout the long term future.
PS, Michael Chabon is a great writer too, I had a Chabon binge and read the ‘Yiddish Policemen’s Union’ and ‘Wonder Boys’ back to back from Toxteth library. He’s brilliant and laugh out loud funny.
Thanks to everyone who made working at the Burlington Fine Arts Club so enjoyable.
I’m in an interesting show at the Burlington Fine Arts Club in Manchester over the coming week. Myself and three other artists from the Royal Standard have been invited to work alongside Manchester artist Andrew Bracey to see what we can come up with over the course of a week long residency.
Photo blog of proceedings here
All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy
Without time off from work, a person becomes both bored and boring.
How could anyone be bored at The Burlington Fine Arts Club?
For one week 5 artist will come together to work, play, read, talk, eat, write, make, crit, plan, faff, drink, dream, listen and try not and be bored. They will, for a week, follow the example of the original Burlington Club members, such as Luytens, Rossetti, Ruskin and Whistler. None of them know what will happen in this week.
In the spirit of collaboration and connecting that the Burlington encourages Andrew Bracey has invited 4 artists (Fran Disley, Dave Evans, Kevin Hunt and Emily Speed) from Royal Standard studios in Liverpool to spend the week with him in the club. There are no rules and no outcomes anticipated. A clean slate has been drawn. They must all remember though that no work and all play can also make Jack a dull boy.
Just a few shots of the show and the accompanying text.For more images check out the gallery
In ‘Farewell to Yesterday’s Tomorrow’ I show a selection of work created after recently joining the Royal Standard as a studio member. This new work continues my investigations into the historical concept of ‘the future’ and what purpose our speculation into the future serves.
Several of the sculptural works address the transient nature of narratives of the future, looking at how the history of science fiction can be viewed as a series of failed attempts at imagining a future which, by its very nature, is unknowable. In this new work, this failure and transience is explored through building basic units of futuristic imagining, alien landscapes and rockets, using no allusion to permanence. Materials used retain a fragility, foil, paper, cardboard, are held together with string, or pins, or gravity, and although these objects ‘fly,’ there is no pretence to actual flight, objects are elevated or hung. Like science fictions of the future, we’re forced to employ our imagination to realise something which will only exist fleetingly in our minds, and perhaps give us the opportunity to momentarily view our own cluttered present with fresh eyes. Indeed, Frederic Jameson, in his 2007 book, ‘Archaeologies of the Future’ suggests just this, that under late capitalism history has become compartmentalised, now merely a series of events, that can be packaged and summed up neatly to provide us with evidence of progress and allow us to maintain the potential of upwards mobility. For Jameson, the popularity of future narratives lies in their ability to give us a window into the present which, in the absence of a useful historical basis, has become too indigestible and infinitely complex for us to understand.
I’ve further explored this sense of seeing history as something conveniently packaged by using sound recordings taken in various galleries around the U.K. Galleries are monuments to our organisational skills, places where we try to reconstruct and make sense of past events, which again, like our science fictions, are ultimately unknowable. The sound recordings take us to places which we know are imbued with a rich sense of history, but at the same time do not allow us to view its nuances.
All of the work in ‘Farewell to Yesterday’s Tomorrows’ highlights our inability to venture neither forward or backwards, but hopefully brings us resolutely back to the present, which is all we really have.
I’m showing ‘The Lathe of Heaven’ tonight at The Royal Standard. It’s a great film that raises lots of interesting questions about progress, particularly how people progress in different ways, some by forcing it, others by just ‘going with the flow’. It’s also a good movie in that it has no bad guys, just characters that are trying to do good, but perhaps going about it the wrong way.
In relation to my own work, it’s interesting how George Orr, the central character in ‘The Lathe of Heaven’, dreams many futures, all of which fail on some level. It feels to me that, at it’s core, the film is about the impossibility of imagining the future, and the disastous consequences of trying to hard to force a future upon ourselves…