Susan Hiller’s Witness, which I first saw in a disused chapel in north Paddington in 2000 – and which I wrote about for MostlyFilm a couple of years ago – is one of my favourite artworks, I think (yeah, yeah, it’s a long and ever changing list, but Witness is always there). There’s something about the weirdness of the narratives – recordings of tales of encounters with the unexplained, stories about strange lights in the sky told in many different languages – the beauty of the installation and the oddness of trying to carry on listening even when the story is told in a language you don’t understand, that I find compelling.
Coming across some of those same voices in a different form – as part of the soundtrack to a work called Sounding – in the Box at Pippy Houldsworth was an unexpected pleasure (I’d known about the main exhibition in the space; the Hiller was a bonus). The Box is a small booth space, here containing a small screen housed in a box frame; three sets of headphones hang just outside the booth (though the work is best experienced solo) and it’s these that add sound to the video abstraction on the screen.
The lift in the Royal Festival Hall is my favourite lift by a country mile and though in all respects it’s a perfectly nice, if a little ordinary, lift, it’s not about the lift’s appearance or the views of the Southbank afforded by a journey in it, good though those are. No, this lift contains art.
Writing about Bruce Nauman’s Days yesterday put the idea of sound and the way information is communicated firmly in my mind, so coming across a leaflet for Fade In/Fade Out – a show I saw at Bloomberg SPACE a few years ago – while sorting through a pile of random paperwork felt like a very good coincidence. There were a few great pieces in the exhibition, but the work that’s stayed with me most clearly is Kris Martin’s Mandi iii, a station information board loudly and relentlessly updating to make sure we have up to the minute information. But as the flaps clicked over the lack of information remained; every surface on the board was plain black.
There is a beautiful simplicity to Bruce Nauman’s Days at the ICA. The space is empty but for two rows of plain white squares suspended at roughly head height. Walking between the white panels – seven in in each row – it’s clear that they’re loudspeakers and that from each a voice can be heard speaking the days of the week. So far, so simple. The space is almost empty and what’s in there is simplicity itself – my liking for art that’s minimal and preferably white can be no secret to anyone who’s been reading this on even a semi-regular basis – so predictably enough I’m in favour of Days from the start.
Vatnajökull in Iceland is the largest glacier in Europe. But it’s melting into a lagoon, thanks, one assumes, to climate change. For a week in June 2007, artist Katie Paterson submerged a microphone, attached to a mobile phone, into the freezing waters of the ever expanding Jökulsárlón lagoon making it possible to listen to the sound of the ice melting.
For the work Vatnajökull (the sound of), Paterson displayed the phone number – in the form of a neon sign – at the Slade School of Fine Art in London as part of her MFA degree show.
It starts with a bit of whispering and low-level chatter from around the room but gradually the singing starts, quietly at first but quickly getting louder as different voices join in. Before I know it, the room is full of sound. Whether seated in the centre of the oval of speakers – one for each of the forty voices of the Salisbury Cathedral Choir singing Thomas Tallis’s Spem in alium – or wandering among the speakers picking up individual voices, this is not a soundscape it’s possible to experience in the concert hall.