I took a day-trip to London to see Wood and Harrison’s Things That Happen at the Carroll / Fletcher Gallery and hear Graham Dunning’s talk at SoundFjord.
It rained and my navigation skills proved themselves to be suspect once more. But I was justly rewarded for my endurance.
Having had the immense pleasure of teaching with Mr. Harrison at Wolverhampton University, I have some knowledge of the video works that Wood and Harrison have created over the years. Things That Happen brings together, new pieces (I have never seen), alongside earlier works, which I have only seen on old, defunct televisions in various badly lit seminar rooms. The show is an eloquently curated retrospective, presented within an appropriately minimalist space: Carroll / Fletcher is a beautiful gallery with a very satisfying gray concrete staircase.
At the back of the gallery a familiar black dot provided me with a mnemonic focal point. I have watched the video Blind/Spot on DVD many times. In my mind I had imagined it to be exhibited full size at the end of a gray minimalist corridor. I find it however, unassumingly projected onto a free-standing projection screen, similar to those once set up in schools and homes throughout the 1970’s, enabling us to watch educational films on childbirth, and Super 8 films of holidays in Rhyl or unprofessional family pets. Of course, this is the perfect situation for the work: a screen upon a screen: a projected space upon a space for projection. The video holds a black dot in the middle of a white rectangle, before abruptly snapping up to reveal another black dot on the white rectangle of another screen, which snaps up again to reveal another dot on another screen further down a corridor of other screens. The dot remains the same size, although in fact it is increasing in size as it recedes down the corridor: the circle filling a larger area of the rectangle in order to remain unchanged to the eye. This simple experiment seems to rent a hole in my perception of the space I am seeing: a visual diagram undermining my frail understanding of the laws of physics. The tear is accompanied by the audible snap of the screen rolling up, however, the sound is not dramatically amplified, but carefully left to descend from the tinny speaker of the projector above our heads.
Next to Blind/Spot, in the corner of the gallery, a TV monitor sits abandoned on the floor. In front of this hang a pair of headphones, quietly awaiting the unification of sound and image. On the TV screen a microphone swings from side to side in front of a small amp. I am of course reminded of Reich’s Pendulum Music, to whom Wood and Harrison offer their ‘Apologies’, but here there are no performers and the repetitive un-touched initiation and cessation of movement, adds futility to the dull tock of the looped swing. The visually mute chronometric pendulum of MIC/Amp remains silent until I put on the headphones. At this moment an intermittent feedback, swings through my ears, slowly approaching an exquisite full stop, in the form of a constant standing tone humming intimately, right between my eyes. Wood and Harrison’s use of sound is adroit and understated, the work Shelf (2007) ( (not in this show) is in many ways as much a sound piece as it is a video installation.
In 10 x 10 (2011) a cyclical almost autonomic gush of breath, reminiscent of a David Lynch soundtrack, seems to repeatedly drag down image after image projected onto a large wall. The regular rhythm of this noise implies continuity, a mechanical descent, which distances us from the space we are observing. The closed-circuit of these images provides a voyeuristic glimpse into the windowless rooms of a bizarre office block, inhabited occasionally by a bored man (Harrison) whose behavior seems simultaneously mundane and bizarre: throwing paper planes into a bin; blowing up balloons, which never increase in size; dropping office furniture onto randomly arranged strip lights. The monotonous descent of images proceeds like a visual paternoster, allowing us to join or leave the threads of narrative that a full ride reveals. Sometimes Harrison appears adorned in a line-up of fancy dress costumes, which reminds me of Village People: a police officer, a cowboy, a Red Indian (sadly no macho man). Harrison seems to be waiting for an office party that no one else could be bothered to attend. The dull dejection of such overdue moments pervades many of the works that make up Things That happen. The actions performed seem to result from a lack of purpose, time suspended in that idle never ending empty moment when things that happen, don’t.
Soliloquy #3: sebastiane hegarty (2008)
Later that afternoon I clumsily orienteered through increasingly unfamiliar regions of Tottenham, in search of SoundFjord, where Graham Dunning was giving a fascinating talk as part of his exhibition For Posterity. The talk concerned his attempt to reunite a found reel-to-reel tape with the owners of the voices left upon it.
At a car boot sale, Graham had bought a flat-bed tape recorder together with a spool of audio tape. Upon this he found waiting the voices of a family who had recorded themselves ‘for posterity’: for the listening attention of unknown ears. Diligently Graham had located the survivors of these voices and corresponded to discuss a safe return. But the narrative had continued whilst voice remained still: one of the children heard singing had died in a motorbike accident and his father had also died some years after the tape had been recorded. The surviving relative of the voices could not bear to hear them speak: to have them happen again. She did not want them returned, but preferred them left where they were: unspoken and unheard.
Found tapes have featured in my own sound work and I have boxes full of discarded voices that others have left to disintegrate on forgotten audiocassettes, reel to reels and answerphone tapes. There is something fatal in the act of recording voice. Edison of course, considered the phonograph a portal for conversations with the deceased, whilst, in Ulysses, James Joyce imagined a gramophone would one day be placed in the headstones of all our dearly departed.
Having made numerous covert recordings of people talking on trains or in the delayed spaces of transport waiting rooms, I am aware of the fatality that occurs when we attempt to keep that which is fleeting. When listening back to these voices whilst still in the present company of their author, I was struck by a dull but absolute sense of loss. The layering of the past upon the present generated a distinct lack in time, a lack that made ghosts of those whose voice I had confiscated.