By Joseph Young
The Interbeing project continues our ongoing research into the collaborative possibilities between two very different media – ceramics and sound. The idea of Interbeing (the interconnectedness of all things)1 impliesimplicit and explicit connections between even those cultures and cultural expressions that appear on the surface to be very different. It follows that sound is almost the perfect media with which to explore this interconnectivity, one that is pervasive, porous and goes beyond borders2.
Sound is evasive, seeping between barriers and obstacles whilst evading certainties of meaning, all the time remaining rooted in the cultural space(s) from which it is produced (Voegelin, 2010) (LaBelle, 2018) et al. This elusiveness and open-endedness whilst clearly reflecting the material conditions of its production, and the cultural sensibilities that inform that materialism (Feld, 2015), is precisely why it is such a rich seam to investigate notions of interconnectivity across unbroachable geographical spaces.
As a result of the Covid pandemic, the reality of artists meeting in person and working together in a shared physical space as part of a residency seems almost like a half-remembered dream. A mythical time when globalism meant affordable international travel as well online hyper-connectivity. The climate crisis, of course, calls into question the age of cheap international travel, but that is for another forum. As curators, we had to try to continue to bring artists together in very different ways using existing digital tools to ensure that conversation and collaboration were not reduced to pixelated video calls on social media.
In the first iteration of Interbeing, Emptiness is Form at The Ceramic House, we looked at our usual format of inviting artists to perform live in the domestic space creating ‘close-up’ encounters that touched audiences directly through the intimacy of their interaction, and felt we could not replicate this experience online. What we did instead was to invite artists to pre-record a live, one-off performance in their home or studio using whatever materials they had to hand and to introduce that work with a live conversation through Instagram Live2. These conversations gave us as curators and artists the opportunity to discuss not just the work created, but also the conditions under which they had been made and the effects of the pandemic on artistic practice, a subject still under-discussed in public forums. It was a way of meeting the artists “in person” and creating a different form of intimacy through conversation about performance rather than through the performative act itself.
In the next iteration No Interdependent Origins we re-imagined a residency process whereby only one half of each collaborating artist ‘couple’ were able to work on site. The ceramic artists from Hong Kong were meant to travel to Britain and produce work in collaboration with their UK sonic artist partners, but despite postponing the residency dates several times, this proved impossible. Working remotely involved time zone differences, accompanied by language and cultural barriers which meant that the artists had to settle for working in parallel rather than in direct co-operation, producing work in response to shared themes whilst exhibiting separate and discrete pieces of work in the final presentation.
Dan Thompson’s Ancient Water expertly weaved together a narrative of space exploration, ancient place names and globalisation to re-imagine cultural inter-connections as being bound together by water, flowing across time and space to produce a single voice, single channel meditation that filled the exhibition space at Quex House with a liquid, poetic stream of consciousness.
Emily Thompson’s contribution to Vanished History took a much more embodied path, exploring lost and erased feminist histories from the Powell-Cotton archives through interviews with current and former workers at the house. This multiplicity of voices, triggered by movement, produced a site-specific, multi-room environment which hauntologically evoked the women of the family whose stories and contributions have been hitherto overlooked and unheard in the existing patriarchal historiography.
For Neither Increasing nor Decreasing, the sound component was peripheral to an online/ physical hybrid format which saw artists from Shanghai and elsewhere respond digitally to selected objects from a Buddhist collection in a historic house, Chiddingstone Castle. I created a short playlist of sounds recorded in and around the Guangzhou region during our 2019 research trip to China and published these on Soundcloud to accompany the exhibition3.
I will discuss elsewhere the process of making the film Listening Hands and how the pandemic forced changes in both modalities and location to produce a hybrid experimental format in which sound became the principal focus within the visual format of an artist’s film. Likewise, the process of producing the album accompanying this book will be outlined in the final section, alongside another collection of sounds that I recorded in Jingdezhen as part of the 2019 research trip.
- Hanh, T.N., 2009. The heart of understanding: Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra. Parallax Press.