This film was shot in Skemersdale at what purports to be the largest roundabout in Europe.
Throughout my work these days there is a preoccupation with circularity, a sense of orbiting in the everyday, of being part of cycles within cycles. I don’t mind this, to be part of a cycle is inherently positive, experimentation leads to progress or failure which leads more experimentation which leads to further progress or failure. Individual failure, social failure, global failure, or success and progress, is like the process of walking, a series of small falls, but inevitable forward momentum. The alternative is terrifying.
So I made this film about the largest roundabout in Europe (or the world as some might have it). It was filmed during the winter of 2011/12. I visited many times, took photo’s made sound recordings and recorded a lot of footage. I also researched the history of ‘Skem’ which can be traced all the way back to the Domesday book. Skemersdale was designated a new town in 1961, and had millions of pounds poured into making it a place to house overspill from Liverpool. A new infrastructure was built, famously without any traffic lights and lots of oversize roundabouts. Not as many people moved to Skemersdale as was originally planned and its fortunes have waxed and waned over the decades. This made it doubly interesting as a subject to film, the modernist aspirations for the town, which, thanks to politics, were never quite born out. All that really remains of this utopian vision of the new town is a series of enormous roundabouts and dual carriageways. If you have nowhere to go and don’t mind getting lost, I recommend a drive around.
Also on the roundabout there is a small copse in which teenagers hang out, there was evidence of a fire, beer cans etc. This notion of a round about as an island, a self contained piece of land in which possibilities can be explored, excited me. I spent a lot of time staring out of the window of my parents car as a child, being driven back from my nans along the M53 or whatever, listening to my walkman. That was prime daydreaming time too. Something of the experience of driving around Skem for hours at a time brought a sense of this back. I listened to science fiction audio books (now, not then) and sci-fi soundtracks as a way of connecting with Skem’s lost future. Clips and samples of these make up the soundtrack of the video.
There’s a pursuit of Deleuze’s ‘Time Image’ in the single take lasting half an hour (quite a while to spend on a roundabout!) During this time, this circular journey, I oscillated between realm of memories and the imagination, the past and the future penetrating the present. It was an enjoyable experience.
Tomorrow’s World is an exhibition of working ideas and material experiments with the aim to test out and develop initial concepts to create an open dialogue with the audience in a gallery environment. Situated at Rogue Studios Project Space, the exhibition brings together two artists who examine the material residue of technological progress. Our re-workings of past visions of the future and more recent obsolete technologies attempts to make a concrete punctuation in the unceasing forward flow of perpetual growth; to not only explore the ideology of progress under the conditions of late capitalism, but also question the polemic nature of technological progress itself.
The Drawing Sessions was held at The Royal Standard on 19th and 20th of November.
Saturday was a 12 hour drawing extraveganza with live music and sounds from lots of great musicians/sound artists. There were a couple of great presentations and lots of great drawings produced. I spent 12 hours making one drawing, which was a curious exerience for me…
I’m in a show at Supercollider in Blackpool, a great space with a really interesting programme. The show revolves around the notion of love, and was initiated by discussions at The Royal Standard around the mutual respect that exists between artist led spaces such at TRS and Supercollider.
“November marks Supercollider’s third birthday and in order to celebrate the occasion has invited the artists at The Royal Standard to create and present new works.
The Royal Standard have responded to this invitation creating The Royal Standard Love In, an exhibition featuring the works of 13 Royal Standard studio holders, using notions of love and romance in as a catalyst; galvanizing their individual practice’s towards a common goal.”
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).