Independent, practice-led, post-doctoral research into borders and transitory spaces through the media of sound and, to a lesser extent, light. This document outlines my current research that stems from particular areas of my PhD
This independent, practice-led, post-doctoral research is a focused investigation into the relationships between space and sound and, to a lesser extent, between space and light, especially in border and other transitional spaces. Questions include: How does sound affect the surrounding space? Can it change, alter, renegotiate space? Does space affect sound? Does light behave in a similar way? What effect does it have on the listener/viewer? What are the properties of sound and light and can there be a relationship between them? What is the relationship of space, sound and listener/ space, light and viewer?
This research extends my exploration into borders and other transitory spaces that was begun during my practice-led PhD in Fine Art and Philosophy (The Presence of Absence and Other States of Space 2013)whose outcomes can be briefly summarized as follows -
· Absence was identified as an underlying concept especially with regard to the identity of place
· Place was seen as a site of memory and experience rather than purely locational
· The term ‘anti-place’ was used to represent individual identity of standardized place
· The validity of the term ‘non-place’ was questioned and found to be of limited contemporary validity
· Existing protocols within the narrow authoritarian space of the border and also within the specifity of the border hinterland, provided an expected code of behaviour that was then applied to the non-place creating border zone cultural modes within certain non-places
These theories have been used as a foundation for this further research.
I see my approach as interdisciplinary and experimental, at the intersection of art and philosophy and consider myself an interdisciplinary artist working mainly in installation, video, performance, sound and light using philosophical ideas thus developing further understanding. References reflect this and include Foucault, Heidegger, Lefebvre, Barad, Augé, Bachelard as well as artists such as Ondàk, Orozco, Cardiff and Starling.
The methodology of this practice-led research is based on extensive literature and visual review. It encompasses philosophy, art theory, social and cultural theory. The creative possibilities offered by the everyday environment mean practice is not always located in my studio, observing and documenting through a variety of media from a ‘sketchbook’ of sound snippets of conversations and light patterns to photography, film and drawing. Often working site-specifically, there is aconstant disturbance through the dislocation of site creates constantly changing events and relations. These experiments will create a comprehensive and questioning body of work that can be developed in a studio and, later, in an exhibition setting. Taking time to reflect on what I have encountered, my studio becomes a place to play, to challenge myself and make mistakes. I view my practice as experimental and outward looking continually asking myself what new thoughts does it make possible to think?
An important concept as a working basis is the everyday. Looking at the interfaces through the marginal area of the everyday that often occur through the process of walking which Michel de Certeau calls walking a continual succession of ‘out of placeness’. However, I see it as a continual process of making new placesthat are borders, edges and liminal spaces where ideas change and disturbed thoughts appear giving rise to new cultural narratives and identities with an ambiguous meaning. Their importance lies in the unmonumental quotidian lives and spaces that could be marked by events or objects thus negotiating the passing of time. Roland Barthes, (quoted by Peter Halley in essay ‘The everyday today’ in Harris and Berke 1997:194) writes ‘The everyday as a cultural sign, also has not one but many meanings’. This are useful points when considering sonic aspects and contributes to my often used methodology of gathering and walking andfeeds into my notions of the ‘objects’ that are sound and light that are already present in the environment and form the basis for study.
Sound and Light
Sound and light have the particularqualities of ephemerality, ambiguity and the ability to transcend boundaries. Taking sound and light as if they were tangible objects enables me to look at theirinfluence on the space around them and also incorporates the sculptural sensibilities of the ‘object’. Thus, in effect, how does the object that is, sound and/or light, transform its surroundings, creating, locating, altering and crossing boundaries? To clarify certain points, the use of the term sound also includes the notion of silence, light includes darkness and borders are not just physical but also mental, cultural, social etc. Questions asked here include:What is the shape of sound? How does sound affect the surrounding space? How does sound renegotiate the space? Does light behave in a similar way? What effect does it have on the listener/viewer? What is the relationship, if any, between properties of sound and light, for example, the ephemerality?
These ‘objects’ can be already present in the environment such as a door left ajar at night where the light extends beyond its intended territory or voices creeping out from a hidden space. They can also be constructed either by using things found such as an object that filters light or a tin can that can echo a sound from elsewhere, or, created by the artist. They thus allow a tangibility of the ephemeral. The conjunction of space and object creates an intersection, a meeting place. All these situations expose the way space is altered through their presence. It highlights the situation of space – open, closed; public, private; belonging, free; institutional, restrictive or can transformspace into place, re-configure a border zone and brings into play the concept of time. They are moments where one thing becomes another, a transient, ambiguous space, a fragility of the isolated instant. These can also be seen as ‘what if’ moments of transient events. What I am proposing is that by using sound and light to extend the remit of the solid artifact creates momentary structures as solid as the object but that promotes a fluid creative process whereby ideas are generated that can transcend the stuckness of the conventional artifact.
These ideas are explored through a mix of existing situations and deliberate interventions. The aim is to create a dialogue at the intersections of space, sound/light and artist. The process of art making becomes performative. By creating aconstant disturbance through the dislocation of site creates constantly changing events and relations. These experiments will create a comprehensive and questioning body of work that can be developed in a studio and later, through exhibition. It is my belief that by using sound and light as sculptural objects that transcend boundaries, they will transform gallery space in a fluid and exciting way and promote concepts that have a deep meaning but that work on different levels. However, because of the media used, extensive research into display and exhibition of historical precedents, contemporary thought is vital.
Borders and Transitional Spaces
Included within the remit of the border is the transitional space of the horizon which can be seen as a meeting place and a beginning rather than the furthest visible point. It encompasses the mental, social, geographical, psychological, cultural, political as well as physical. It is momentary and nomadic, an intervening space that can be linked with physical spaces. For example, the initial horizon of the traveller is the airport departure lounge where one is neither here nor there but is the furthest imaginable grounded space that a traveller identifies with. These spaces have no base function other than as a waiting area, a pause in the narrative of the everyday, where the space is never place. as well as the commercial concerns and is well served through sound and light. This space is bounded, firstly by the space they have just left, the control, authoritarian area, which has processed you forward; and secondly, by the space you have not yet entered, the air space. In this limbo space, the premise of going forward, going somewhere other than where they usually create an expectation and imaginative space, a pause in the narrative of the everyday. The imaginative space can be thought of as a mental and physical horizon, which returns us to the concept of the horizon as a beginning rather than an endpoint. This links with other spaces such as the lay-by. In the lay-by, the roadside café fulfills a similar, lower key function to the airport departure lounge which is transformed for the purposes of commerce in the guise of filling time and providing for the temporary inhabitants. Transcending all these territorialised spaces are sound and light. These are just two examples of the type of transitory spaces that I intend to explore and the ideas that are set in motion. Questions can be asked such as ‘What interactions occur amongst strangers?’ ‘How are expectations managed when they are thwarted?’ ‘How does the space influence behaviour?’. These extend beyond the remit of the proposed media but which will not be eliminated because of this although they could be assessed as to whether sound and light could be used to create a more positive environment.
Progress so far
A comprehensive mix of exhibitions, residencies and conferences that I have used to develop ideas further, together with a continual visual and literature review, have created a solid foundation for this research. Below is a resume of the progress so far.
· Defining the nature of sculpture in order to apply to sound, essentially, the shape of sound. Light as sculptural object is easier to define and this work was started during my MA.
This has been explored practically and through visual research into traditional sculpture as well as contemporary. For example, the traditional sculpture gallery at the Walker, Liverpool; Henry Moore, Leeds and artists such as Rebecca Warren create dichotomies that are relevant to this area of research. My own research includes the creation of sculpture using paint where the drying period created constant change which can be aligned to the way sound and light change according to different criteria. Traces made by the removal of the sculptures were also used as an analogy to ‘snippets’ of sound. These traces were part of the installation selected for Nottingham Castle Open in 2015. Analysis is continuous but obvious points are that sculpture only operates in conjunction with the space it is situated in and that it has a tactile quality noticeable through viewer actions when showing this sculptural work during open studios and artist visits. It is my belief that by using sound and light as sculptural objects that transcend boundaries will transform gallery space in a fluid and exciting way and promote concepts that have a deep meaning but that work on different levels. However, because of the media used, extensive research into display and exhibition of historical precedents, contemporary thought is needed.
· Placial identities through sound
The paper, Urban Flows and Non-Flows, at FKL Different Rhythms, Sardinia, investigates the rhythms of social spaces of four cities. In order of visiting, these were Leicester, UK; Athens, Greece; Saskatoon, Canada and Cagliari which resulted in 28 recordings. My intention was to explore the discourse between sound, space/time and body. Questions include: ‘how do sound flows utilise, respond or even create space?’ ‘Does language/dialect diversity create an alienation of existing sonic rhythms?’ ‘Are we able to listen without reference to the past?’ ‘How does hearing/listening relate to the past and present?’. My aim was to see if the sites of sonic exchange collapsed the inherent flow of the rhythms of each city with the alien, inserted sound creating a disruption in the status quo so producing an abstract soundspace. This is due to be included in a book published 2019.
· The search for silence
Silence might be golden as the saying goes, but its existence is questionable. To create a criteria to define silence, the questions I have been asking include: Is silence the natural counterpoint of sound? Should one be prioritised over another? Can you hear silence or just experience it? Do you need sound to hear silence? I propose that silence is a notion that is unachievable.
My long-term quest to record it has taken me underground, to distant hillsides and latterly, to an anechoic chamber. I have tried to view sound, and silence, as sculptural objects that can be exhibited. This seems that it may be in the nature of a Gedanken experiment as used by Albert Einstein. This is described (and explored) by Karen Barad in Meeting the Universe Halfway as ‘an experiment carried out only in the imagination or thought, an appeal to imagined experience; a thought experiment’ (Barad, K. 2007:288; Oxford English Dictionary). I suggest that sound has a physical presence and shape beyond its composition of waves, beyond the manifestations such as written scores or beyond the sound-creator such as a musical instrument or car itself. This contributes to my thoughts that it can be exhibited to reveal that shape so creating a sculptural object. It may be that the shape could also be silence.
I concur with the dictionary definition of silence as the absence of sound (Chambers English Dictionary 1990:1368). However, Chambers goes on to state ‘abstention from sounding, speech, mention or communication’. This implies that silence is an active position generated (or not generated) by a person or an object such as a machine. It suggests that silence is directly related to the person and, by extension, may be said to be the absence of heard sound. This indicates that the absence of sound can be individual due to our personal aural capabilities. However, investigation shows that we cannot escape our own body sounds therefore creating a dichotomy whereby silence may only to exist without a living presence and therefore cannot verified.
At this moment in time, I can simultaneously hear and identify due to my knowledge of the location, the scratch of my pen on paper, the hum of machinery in a quarry, the falling of rocks, a coffee pot boiling, my partner breathing, paper rustling and a distant car. All sounds that I recognise with no natural sounds except for my partner’s breath. The sounds that disrupt silence, then, are created through human actions. In addition, there could be unidentified sounds to which my brain has not alerted me and the sound of my own body to which I am so accustomed I no longer hear its workings. This will be later discussed in relation to my recordings in an anechoic chamber. Sound imposed by others is obviously not always unwelcome but, in the pursuit of silence, presents the unattainable and unachievable.
The process I have adopted has been to explore the nature of sculpture both practically and theoretically and apply those principles to sound and then, by extension, to silence. I have tried to record silence underground which produced an excellent reproduction of the recording machine interspersed with occasional drips of water. In the deep countryside, birds interrupt. Recently, in a place where silence hung like a cloak, I was disturbed by what appeared to be the sound of a motorbike only to find it was my own stomach rumbling, a sound that would not normally even be heard. These seemingly comic results led me to believe that silence was unachievable not only because of contemporary society but also through the forces of nature. Lastly, I have recorded in an anechoic chamber where it was impossible to divorce bodily functions and one’s own sounds were loudly apparent. Generally, it could be said that the actions of man accompanied by uncontrollable natural occurrences combined with personal body sounds create an inescapable, unmusical score. In an anechoic chamber designed to remove unwanted noise, my body reveals itself as a bag of bones that move imperfectly against one another. My heart beats and my blood pumps round my body. There is no silence. I place my recording equipment by itself in the chamber, press play and leave. When I play it back later, the sounds of everyday and myself intrude.
Analysing these results, it is the hearing of silence that is elusive. The link between sound and silence is in the perception and the link between hearing, as in being perceptive to noise, and not hearing, being perceptive to silence, is created by the tripartite - space, body, sound. Whilst it could be said that sound is just any old noise, there is a tangibility to sound from a physical aspect that includes ‘noise’ as well as ordered sound (music). Silence can be said to have a physicality due only to its perceived as well as its imagined presence, as in an anechoic chamber. I do, however, persist in my view that sound and silence have shape and, maybe, even mass that relates to the traditional sculptural object. This means that they have a form that can be exhibited. The obvious difficulties of exhibiting sound relate to its fluidity, its overriding of boundaries, so that it is either heard individually through headphones or heard throughout the gallery. The location is of prime importance. For example, could the sound of teacups echoing from the gallery café be said to create a sculpture? The listening process creates an aural landscape pertaining only to that moment and that location that could be said to create a form as valid as any sculpture. Exhibiting the imaginative presence of the shape of silence becomes impossible due to this aural landscape. It becomes a Gedanken experiment, an appeal to the imagined experience, on the part of the gallery visitor.
Summing up, it is my belief, rightly or wrongly, that I have recorded silence. I imagine that I have done so but I am unable to confirm it due to aural pollution. It may be that it is solely the hearing of silence that is unachievable rather than the presence of silence. In the nature of Gedanken experiments, this does not qualify because the position of the artist is that the experiment was carried out. However, on behalf of the gallery visitor, the shape of silence can only be imagined and thus can only be a thought experiment in whatever form it is presented.
· Sonic Site
The area of human sound production especially of humming as a deep pre-verbal human experience is especially interesting as I see it as a way that responds both to the space and self but when it becomes a collective experience, that is, undertaken as a group activity, the hum becomes communal. For the conference Listening after Pauline Oliveros, the paper A Collective Intake of Breathexplores the moment, inherently and intricately linked to space and time. where silence becomes sound and sound becomes silence focusing on the act of humming both individually and collectively. The paper speculates that before humming, which includes the drawing of breath, active listening creates the response to the moment, enhances the relationship with the space thus guiding the tone of the hum. Afterwards, a spontaneous silence occurs whilst the hum resonates pointing to an intense relationship to listening even when more than one person is humming with a naturally different duration. During a collective hum, it has been noted that there is a point where the hums transform themselves from an individual pursuit to a collective one and move towards a multi-dimensional tone. The research for this work has been undertaken in a second world war bunker on Mersea Island, a crypt in Cagliari and during residency In The Hole in rural Saskatoon. It was also touched on in a paper for Warwick University conference.
Another area of this research is part of an ongoing collaboration with Ed McKeonand a choir in Birmingham looking at the sonic architecture of social space as well as the actual formation of a group of individuals into a community.
· Influence of environment during art/sailing residency
Recording underwater was influential in my realization on how sound travels even though I was limited in to the depth I was able to record at due to lack of hydrophone. Although I have a basic knowledge of the physics of sound, the experiment was useful and one I hope to repeat in the future especially at the tidal edge in the littoral zones. the whole residency was important especially looking at ideas of diffusion from Karen Barad. Other work included translating the sounds from the windy harbour into language which is currently exhibited in Birmingham Museum and Gallery.
· Light practices
Continuing from my MA, where the work This is the place where.. has been exhibited at Leeds Met Gallery and Ovada Gallery, Oxford, current experiments use multiple projectors and found slides that may be dislocated, combined with artist actions or otherwise subverted to create boundaries and border lines where these disrupt flow. The use of slides also creates a place where sound becomes imagined as, for example, in the use of a slide featuring the Niagara Falls. This area of projected hearing of sound adds a potential direction. I also showed the work Driftat Athens Alternative art Fair where a silent video played with the intention of imagined sound.
· Staging ideas especially in regard to the listening process.
· Using the work Encountering/It is as it was which has been shown at the Harrington Mill Studio Gallery and at Il Ghetto Centro d’Arte e Cultura, Cagliari, Sardinia as part of the FKL Different Rhythmsconference had enabled me to develop notions of display and of listening. This work features stories, spoken by women that tell of life-changing events (of whatever magnitude). The concept of the work is simple and diverse from my usual practice. Ten speakers relay stories simultaneously. The viewer then interweaves between different narratives picking up fragments in the movement between speakers where they can add their own experiences thus creating a new and personal narrative. This will develop the concept of shaping sound with relation to the viewer. Other work is Sur et Sous and Auditour.
· Training and development in sound recording and editing techniques.
The use of a Zoom H6, has improved recordings from my basic camera efforts although there are limitations. I have also completed a short course on creating sounds through the use of light by making simple synthesizers.
· Strategy for fine art research and dissemination
It is important to continue to search for a useful strategy for practice-led research, gain a methodology that has the potential to provide a less subjective means of evaluation and valuable to cross-platform research fields. This has included attending a conference at Birmingham School of Art, presenting a paper on The Success of Failure as a Methodology at Nottingham Contemporary as well as research and much thought. Having previously been the Post-doctoral Fellow at the centre for Fine Art Research at Birmingham School of Art, I still attend some seminars which enables discussions amongst PhD candidates. This enables me to keep up with current thinking and develop strategies that are useful to my own research. My aim is for a knowledge-sharing community to which I contribute to by being open about my work.
· Funding is being sought for the purposes of upgrading equipment, to create an soundproofed Archimedean spiral where sound folds and unfolds and to buy time to analyse, reflect and write up the results of my research.
· Live art - using humming as a means of exploring space and the sound of movement within space to create aural drawings; performances with artist Louise Garland such as Dialogues and Creative Confessional. This is part of a long standing performative collaboration.
· Continuing slow re-write of thesis for potential publication.
I originally created and continually update this document as a framework and focus point for deeper understanding of the intersection of sound, space and self especially within transitional spaces. My curiosity sometimes leads me off track and whilst I allow myself some time to wander and wonder, it brings me back into focus. However, I have found that, often, these wanderings create unexpected and often related developments. I use my studio as a place of experimentation, I aspire to create challenging and critically engaged work that is a result of practice and research as each informs and is informed by the other. To disseminate my work, I continue to propose exhibitions and residencies; presenting conference papers and attend conferences and find more opportunities for publication including academia.edu. I would like to find new ways of disseminating my findings perhaps through more regular blogs and other social media. Also important is to continue developing networks that challenge and develop my practice.
My immediate aim is to continue with this broad outline of research with the intention of answering some of the questions asked. Priorities include finding funding and access to some equipment that is hindering my progress.
Summarising, the project develops the concept of transience from the perspective of sound and light as sculptural objects albeit ambiguous and tenuous ones. The significance lies in its contribution towards sculptural debates and its cross border and therefore, cross cultural narratives. I think that it has an importance especially from a fine art perspective where sound is approached differently. I strive to produce a variety of challenging artwork, research and writing that is accessible and knowledgeable.
Palimpsestuous2014 Fractured acrylic sheets, oil paint, wood, table, vice. 76h x 35w x 81cms.. This installation explores both the nature of display and the palimpsest of painting. Referencing the way painters build up the layers to create a depth of image, here the abstract image is created by the act of viewing through the multiple, separate fractured acrylic sheets mounted in a carpenter’s vice. Attached to a table used by numerous artists, the fragments on the sheets are echoed in the table. Displaying the work in this way subverts the white cube conventions, presenting both the way and means of making at the same time as the finished work. The whole installation, however, becomes the work and the paint on acrylic element subsumed within the whole.
Thanks to Wendy Stevens, senior lecturer, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK
During my recordings, I made drawings that are immediate responses to the shape of silence as well as recorded notice of movements that were undertaken.
www.curatingthecontmeporary.orgCurating the idea (Golden, the sculptural nature of silence) 2018
PhD candidate at Birmingham University and lecturer Goldsmiths, London
Director Professor Johnny Golding, now at RCA