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Piss walk 11:1 31.05.20

The arrival of ‘lockdown’ allowed me to indulge in daily early morning walks. My regular walk around Winnall Moors Conservation Reserve was unavailable, the Moors being closed due to recent flooding, so my journey had to take another path. Leaving home, I followed the meandering course of the river Itchen, down Water Lane, along the Riverside path, passing mam’s bench out to St Cross Hospital and then back along St Faiths Road to the water meadows, past Winchester College to Inner Cathedral Close, through the Water Gate toward Water Lane and home. With occasional variation this transit has become my habit.

At this early hour the streets and paths of Winchester are relatively empty, my solitude broken by the occasional key-worker, a competitive dribble of runners in pursuit of a personal best, and the hesitant, stray perambulation of dog walkers. Perhaps it is the quiet vacancy of my journey that focused my attention on the wet trails left by the toilet of dogs. Or perhaps because the piss was so fresh, it left a conspicuously dark trail, a trail which later in the day may have evaporated. Pulled by gravitational force, each stream of dog piss flows away from its source, immediately discovering and tracing its own unique path of least resistance. If this pee were a river, it would be running toward another body of water; a lake, the sea, an ocean. But this melancholy flow, rarely makes it home, the stream of piss, meanders, pools, dwindles and expires.

Piss Walk 6:14 08.05.20

Piss Walk 7:8 10.05.20

As part of an ongoing series of piss walks, I started to photograph the urine trails. These photographs draw a map of my daily promenade, but also that of the dogs.  You might even say that the dogs are taking me for a walk: I am on their tail, visually sniffing after their presence. The dogs too are following, inhaling the wet perfume tales of absent mongrels and pedigrees, which linger in the air. Steven Connor, considers all walking ‘a kind of self-ghosting.’ The dogs and I walk invisibly with each other, haunted companions following the ghosts of presence recently departed.

Although the intention was to document rather than curate, there was some aesthetic pleasure in the wandering form of particular trails: the piddle finding its course, as it seeks out the guttering cracks in tarmac and paving slabs. Whilst some trails fade over time, the stain of others remains conspicuously strong. They become familiar landmarks in the landscape of my walk, surviving until the rain pours down and the stain erased.

Piss Walk 7:10 10.05.20

Piss Walk 9a

There is a rhythm to the piss walks. Certain popular locations offer a sudden glissando of wet notes, interspersed by long periods of dry silence and the occasional damp patch. The reason for this melodic popularity is perhaps more architectural than bladder related: the perpendicular elevation of post or wall offers a place for the urine to mark. Perhaps the mere sight of an elevation incites a call of nature, or perhaps the fragrance of that call induces others to reply. The walls of Winchester College are a very popular – I like to imagine that the mutts of Winchester are using their kidneys to pass vernacular comment on the inherent inequalities of the private education system.

Piss Walk 1:10 15.04.20

Piss Walk 4:7 15.04.20

The perpendicular is not the only landmark of preference. The corner of a path or road also seems attractive. In the Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard considers the corner a haven: ‘we take refuge in a corner’, it encloses us in ‘an imaginary room [rising] up around our bodies.’ An intimate, interior space of solitude: ‘in our corners we remember […] the silence of our thoughts.’ In opposition to the security of this poetic right angle, the reflex of a corner in the road, is an edge-land, a non-place, where the familiar meets the unknown: we do not know what is around the corner. Perhaps the profusion of pee is a way for the dogs to cope with the anxiety of this displacement, a method of owning and knowing where they are. Or perhaps it is more thuggery in intent, each dog scrawling a stinking tag on the perimeters of their manor and telling the rest of us to ‘piss off!’

Piss Walk 3a: 1 18.04.20

 

 


On Friday the 31st January 2020, I arrived at Winchester School of Art Library to find a table ‘reserved for activity’. It had been one year and one day since Silence on Loan was added to the Artists’ Book Collection at the WSA Library. Held without the protection of cover or sleeve the book (a single-sided 10” dubplate cut with a silent groove) is shelved at 741.64 HEG. Wedged between the hardbacks, this mute slither of vinyl is easily overlooked, but once a year it is taken from the shelf and placed on the platter of a portable turntable. [Re]turning at thirty-three and a third revolutions per minute the dubplate slowly pronounces the dust and harm that has come to its surface: the silence that has been lost. Once played the silence is put back on the shelf, where it is left un-sounding for another year.



As a performance, this annual audition is rather disappointing; nothing much happens for slightly more than nine-minutes. Those who are here to hear (and those library visitors who’s listening the silence loans) listen to silence being broken and unheard.  Perhaps the tables are turned, and it is the listeners who perform the silence rather than the record player’s stylus. For many of those who came, this is a return to silence, having been here last year when Silence on Loan was performed at the moment of its inclusion into library stock. Just as the dust collects in the groove, so silence returns and gathers in the ear of those who come to listen and remember listening again.
Everyone who is, and now was, there to hear, receives a souvenir in the form of a Silence on Loan 2020 pin-badge, whilst a paper wristband and UV hand-stamp, temporarily confirm admission and attendance.



I had been inclined to record each performance, so that I might document and measure the changes that time brings to the silence. But such calculating permanence would surely imprison that which does not sound, that which is fragile, fugitive and evasive. Silence, is more concerned with the potential for sound than its absence, most [in]audible when we imagine what we don’t hear. The analogue frailty of a physical recording can be used to augment this un-sounding potentiality. The performance on the 31st was documented using an old portable audio cassette recorder. Such obsolete media is characterised by a distinct lack of [hi] fidelity, recording its own imperfections and imposing its own magnetic patina upon the sound it records. This failure to create a faithful document is enhanced by the recording not being monitored – the tape can be seen slowly winding from left to right, but no lights or needles visibly meter the units of volume.


The quantity of tape used measures the duration of silence recorded, transcribing [no] sound into a spatial length, but the cassette is never played, and the silence remains unheard. Paused at this distance, the silence waits next year’s anniversary, when it will be re-wound and next year’s silence recorded over this. An [un] sounding and unfaithful record, this audio document, simultaneously returns and erases the silence of another year.

The next performance of Silence on Loan will be in January 2021

John Hull: Peter Middleton & James Spinney
Notes on Blindness: Middleton & James Spinney
Notes on Blindness: Peter Middleton & James Spinney

John M. Hull 1935 – 2015

I am so very sad to hear of the death of John M. Hull, who, following a fall at home, died in hospital on the 28th July. Emeritus Professor of Religious Education at the University of Birmingham and Honorary Professor of Practical Theology at the Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education, John Hull was widely published on the subjects of religion and blindness. Born in 1935, John developed cataracts in his youth, losing his sight completely in 1983.
I first came across his writing in Oliver Sack’s book An Anthropologist on Mars. Sacks’ books and bibliographies have introduced me to so many fascinating texts, from Luria’s The Man With A Shattered World to Penfield & Perot’s epic paper The Brain’s Record Of Auditory And Visual Experience and of course Hull’s Touching the Rock. In the book Hull describes and reflects upon his own journey into blindness. The writing maintains the honesty and intimacy of the cassette diaries from which it was transcribed, but it is much more than an autobiography of someone else’s experience. As Sack’s writes in his forward to the book: ‘The observation is minute, and it is also profound. The incisiveness of Hull’s observation, the beauty of his language, make this book poetry […] Hull reveals a world in which every human experience […] is transformed’.
I own two versions, the original, Touching the Rock and the later On Sight and Insight, both now full of marginalia and words underlined in reverential pencil. There is so much I would quote: the description of how he and his son learned to wave goodbye at the school gates, shouting ‘bye’ until neither could hear the other; or listening to church bells: ‘To me the very air I was breathing was bell-shaped’.

after the rain: sebastiane hegarty
Perhaps because of my own field-recordings and sound work, the words I return to most concern his experience of rainfall. John writes about rain and thunder several times in his books. There is also a beautiful recording of him describing a thunder storm in an episode of Blind Man’s Beauty, Peter White’s series for Radio 4. Like his writing, John’s voice has a rhythm and tonality, which seem to bring the words closer to ear. He returns to the rain in Sound: An Enrichment or State, an interview for Soundsacpe: The Journal of Acoustic Ecology:

I can remember times when, in my study at home, I would become conscious that there was a storm going on. I would forget about my disorientated and vacated interior and would become aware of the wind, thundering upon the corner of the house, whistling through the eaves. And then I would become aware of the rain, splattering on the windowpane. I would stand up. I would press my nose hard against the window. And gradually it was as if the glass disappeared, because now my consciousness extended out from my nose pressed upon a panel of glass until it became un-conscious […] The rain had turned the light on […] And as I listened…I realized I was no longer listening, because the rain was not falling into my ears, it was falling into my heart.’

This capacity for the sound of rain to dissolve the borders between the body and the world it senses, is perfectly expressed in Touching The Rock, when Hull writes:

‘As I listen to the rain, I am the image of the rain, and I am one with it’.

To See and Not See, the chapter in Sack’s book where first I read John’s words, was concerned with the case of Virgil, a man virtually blind since childhood, who had his sight restored. Having been without vision for over forty-five years, Virgil could see, but was unsure of ‘what seeing means’. ‘He saw, but what he saw had no coherence’; he could see individual letters but not the words they created. ‘He found himself between worlds, and at home in neither’. Virgil would have to learn to see. Sacks writes: ‘When we open our eyes each morning, it is upon a world we have spent a lifetime learning to see. We are not given a world; we make our world…’

Through his writing John Hull offers a moving and profound account of sight-loss, he not only builds a bridge between the worlds of the sighted and blind, he enhances our senses and remakes the world we see and hear.

Notes on Blindness:Peter Middleton & James Spinney

Last year John very kindly accepted an invitation to be the Keynote speaker at Chalk: time, sense and landscape, an interdisciplinary symposium I am organising in Winchester this October. The symposium, now dedicated to the memory of John, will begin with a showing of the short documentary Notes On Blindness, directed by Peter Middleton and James Spinney and based on the cassette diaries from which Touching the Rock was formed. This beautiful documentary is now being made into a feature length film.

Lift_1lift
I approached Supersymmetry via a car park lift illuminated in a narcotic violet glow. Cellotaped to the lift wall was a piece of A4 paper, upon which was printed ‘THIS LIFT DOES NOT SERVE THE 3rd FLOOR’. Interjected in felt tip between ‘The’ and ‘3rd’ was ‘2nd’. I got in anyway and was served with the 1st as promised, from here I took the stairs to the 3rd and final floor, where I entered the enclosed darkness of Ryoji Ikeda’s latest installation. It is ironically appropriate to enter the digital, dark matter of Ikeda’s Supersymmetry via an out of order lift and a dank walk up the concrete steps of a car park stairwell.

Sebastiane Hegarty: Ikeda experiment 0Sebastiane Hegarty: Ikeda experiment

Supersymmmetry presents: ‘ an interpretation of quantum mechanics and quantum information theory from an aesthetic viewpoint […] drawing on [Ikeda’s] exchanges with scientist and engineers […] at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), the worlds largest particle physics laboratory’.

The installation is divided into two separate parts: experiment and experience. Entering the first ‘experiment’ I am enveloped in a visceral bloom of base, intermittently pierced by sublime, frenetic pinpricks of sound. People gather like moths around three, elevated pools of squared and flickering light. Small round particles of matter roll across the surfaces of this illumination, generating patterns of shade, which shift, disperse and congregate. The motion is hypnotic, strangely reminiscent of those oily wave machines, so popular in the 1970’s. These wave machines were the domestic equivalent of the Executive Ball Clickers, whose cradle of steel spheres once provided an aspirational pre-glitch click to the ‘modern’ office soundscape.

Sebastiane Hegarty: Ikeda experience 1Sebastiane Hegarty: Ikeda experience 2
From the experiment I proceed through a curtained blackout, toward the noise of experience. Synchronized bursts of light and data travel at speed down a corridor of screens accompanied by an interrupted cacophony of bleeps and blips. The sound suggests organised forms of communication and analysis, as if we were listening to something being questioned, measured and sent. Physically engulfed in the sensual broken waves of digital noise, I am surprised to be suddenly awash in childhood memories of Star Trek;  beamed back to the deck of Starship Enterprise, where control panels flash and everything looks like it is doing something, when of course, it isn’t. As I look around I notice that most people are filming, immersed in Supersymmetry through the raised screen of their mobile phone, a gesture reminiscent of Spock, who would survey new worlds with his handheld Tricorder. A sense of pretense begins to intervene in my experience and I am suspicious that the ‘scientific and mathematical model’ that Ikeda presents is a facade, a beautiful, sensual but ultimately empty aesthetic experience.

Sebastiane Hegarty: ikeda's ceiling
In a sudden peak of brightness I look up and notice a series of wooden structures attached to the roof: they looked like upside down tables. Above these I can see damp stains of peeling paint. I realise that the structures have been designed to protect the technology of the installation from the holes in the car park roof. These uncomplicated structures offer an eloquent mathematical model for the solution to a real problem: how do we protect the fabrication of Supersymmetry from the reality of rainfall?

Carroll/Fletcher: a citySebastiane Hegarty: Harrison & Wood A film of a city
From the pavement outside Carroll/Fletcher I stare through a window at A film about a city (2015), part of the new Wood and Harrison exhibition An almost identical copy. The clinical austerity of Wood and Harrison‘s architectural model is touched with elements of futility as I notice hoards of miniature human forms sheltering under the canopy of a square, whilst others sit on a solitary bank of stadium seating, facing nowhere, waiting for nothing to happen. There is something desolate about this city, this idea of a city and I am reminded of the Talking Heads song The Big Country, in which David Byrne describes an aerial view of the perfect country:

I see the school and the houses where the kids are
Places to park by the factories and buildings
Restaurants and bars for later in the evening

Byrne concludes: I wouldn’t live there if you paid me to.

Carroll/Fletcher: 100 FallsCarroll/Fletcher: Semi Automatic Painting Machine
Unlike the ‘scientific and mathematical models’ of Ikeda, these models, reminiscent of train sets and Airfix kits, are intimate human spaces, they share a physical ratio with reality.
In the video installation 100 falls (2013), Harrison climbs a ladder ascending out of frame. A pause. And then a human dummy dressed as Harrison, drops to the floor. An obvious video edit and the lifeless dummy reanimates as Harrison. He stands up and proceeds to climb the ladder again. So it continues, one hundred times and then, one hundred more. As I talk to one of the Gallery administrators I am aware that behind his back, whilst we chat, Harrison continues with his pathetic ascent and fall, caught in a tragic, inevitable loop of self-harm. The sense of inevitability continues in Semi Automatic Painting Machine (2013) in which we observe various objects as they are mechanically conveyed through a process of being spray-painted. Amongst the bunting, plants and flip charts, we find John Wood, who was born with a face that looks like it has always been expecting this to happen. He is transported and sprayed white, turned, conveyed and sprayed high visibility yellow. Just as Harrison accepts the inevitability of his continual fall, so Wood is resigned to his place in the chromatic production line of the painting machine.

Carroll/Fletcher: Wood and HarrisonSebastiane Hegarty: Wood & Harrison tennisCarroll/Fletcher: car park
The downstairs gallery seems abandoned, models of tennis courts and industrial estates are deserted; the funfair has moved on. In the out of town car park of the video installation DIYVBIED (Do-It-Yourself, Vehicle Bourne Improvised Explosive Device), model cars randomly explode, not in a CGI altered reality sort of way, but in an indoor firework, Captain Scarlet sort of way. The cars look out of date, unexciting variations of the Hillman Avenger or Morris Marina (once the most popular car in the UK). As one car explodes and then another, I am reminded of those television images of motionless cityscapes, evacuated in response to telephone warnings and suspicious devices, scenes which are then suddenly reanimated by a controlled and remote explosion. As another door flies off another Avenger, every car becomes suspect and the anachronistic image becomes a contemporary premonition of landscapes to come.

Carroll/Fletcher: a ruler Carroll/Fletcher: rulers Carroll/Fletcher: tape ball
As with all of Wood and Harrison’s work there is an obsessive attention to detail. In the gallery upstairs their almost compulsive obsession to order, results in a series of small, pointless and joyous interventions. In what appears to be the office work of bored and idle hands, drawing pins are organised, pencils sharpened, rulers bent and string measured, In the senseless world of Wood and Harrison, everyday objects are faintly rearranged and organised into poetic models, which question our perception of the tangible and concrete, perhaps much more than the aesthetic particle physics and sensuous digital immersion of Ikeda’s Supersymmetry.

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