Current Issue

Issue 12 image
Contents
Introduction
 

The words 'recording' and 'documentation' are sometimes used synonymously, but their etymologies, although similar, contain subtle differences. Both might act as verbs or nouns, actions or objects. The origin of 'record' is associated with the Latin for heart, 'cor', and the concept of committing something to memory, storing in the heart, is no doubt also the origin of the phrase 'learn by heart'. By contrast, the word 'document', with a shorter etymological history, appears tied more to evidence-based recording, teaching and authority; the physical proof of past occurrences, and consequently the gathering of these in archives and collections. So, recording contains an aspect of facing inwards, personal history and memory; whilst documenting contains an outward facing aspect, written evidence and items organised in browsable catalogues. ‘Record’ as a noun later took another meaning via Edison's wax cylinders for 'sound storage', consequently becoming the word used for audio recordings on vinyl. In this issue, titled 'Recording and Documentation', we have taken 'recording' in this form both as noun and verb, and 'documentation' as a noun.

 

The contributions in this issue consider various methods of recording and documentation, as well as the products resulting from these processes. They raise questions as to what should be recorded and what gets forgotten, especially now that devices for live recording are ubiquitous; as well as the rediscovery of objects, ideas and feelings, and how to approach these. While things may be 'fixed' in documents, this issue of Soanyway considers the movement occurring through the interpretation, organisation and thinking of these items and ideas; the decision to place a framework on them and the significance of the gaps that remain.

 

With a cover by Patrick Ford, of an image (or record) taken within a residential complex called 'Skygarden' in District 7 of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, the issue begins with two exhibition features: Images For Sounds: Artist Covers for Music Records at Villa Lontana, Rome, Italy, which explores the presentation and representation of music records, vinyl, as well as the written score, and the place of covers in the archive; and Jill McKnight: Desire Lines at Leeds Art Gallery, UK, which considers the stories and history of residents of Leeds, using archival material to bring these personal histories and collective experiences of frequently overlooked communities into the gallery. Each of the other contributions reflects an aspect of recording or documenting across a range of ways of thinking and making. We also publish alongside this issue a review of Roger Palmer's A Stone’s Throw (Fotohof edition, Salzburg, 2022), a recently published photo-essay on Robben Island, Western Cape, South Africa.

 
Gertrude Gibbons - 'Judging Sound by its Cover': Images for Sounds: Artist Covers for Music Records at Villa Lontana
Villa Lontana

Images for Sounds: Artist Covers for Music Records at Villa Lontana, installation view

Images for Sounds: Artist Covers for Music Records at Villa Lontana, Rome, Italy, was curated by Vittoria Bonifati and ran between 24 February - 30 April 2022.

 

I think of the Leopold Stokowski quote, "musicians paint their pictures on silence". He is named as conductor on the cover of a Beethoven 'Eroica Symphony 3' album, by chance the first record played at Villa Lontana's recent Images for Sounds exhibition. When I entered the exhibition early one day in April, the space was cool and silent, and the colours and patterns called out from their positions on the concrete walls, held by tiny unobtrusive nails. The Villa Lontana exhibition space, initiated in 2018 by Vittoria Bonifati in collaboration with Jo Melvin, is a garage designed entirely out of concrete in 2010 by the architect Fabio Ortolani. Underneath this garage a Roman necropolis of more than 160 tombs was recently discovered, dating back to the first half of the 1st century BC. The space and its history lends itself to a consideration of palimpsests of human touch left over a vast stretch of time. This is one of the reasons the notion of archive takes a central place in the conception of Villa Lontana and all its projects. Villa Lontana describes itself as creating "fluid platforms of encounter between ancient and contemporary practices". Each of their exhibitions to date have included work and artefacts from both the ancient and contemporary.

 

Seeing a cover for Handel's Messiah as one of the records included in the exhibition, I recall the musical technique of word painting, which I used to think was a great joke whenever I was training to sing a song which made use of this technique. Word painting is when the sound of the music reflects the meaning of the lyrics; it creates an interaction between word, image and sound and the suggestions they evoke. In Handel's Messiah, the word 'mountain' accompanied by a higher note, 'valley' with a drop of pitch. The Beatles, Arctic Monkeys, Queen all use word painting. Another technique worth mentioning, but of which I won't go into detail here, is 'visual music', with ancient roots and explored especially since the turn of the last century. Some explorations consider mathematically shared proportions of sound and image; others, like the Italian Futurists and Kandinsky, investigate colour and temporality. This pre-empted avant-garde film experiments by those such as John Cage and Nam June Paik.

 

Pictures painted in sound; how do pictures paint sound? Or silently suggest the note?

Villa Lontana

Kai Althoff, ‘Cereal Breakfast At Neil’s’, 1996, Künstlerhaus Stuttgart, music by Ashley’s. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Neu, Berlin. 

This exhibition, the first at Villa Lontana to look at the music record and album cover, takes an extended approach to the presentation of conversations between periods and mediums. It displays 140 albums created since 1950s (with the core of the exhibition focused around 90 records coming from Giuseppe Garrera's collection (from the 1950s-90s) and then extended into more international and contemporary collaborations) and in that sense is rooted in a relatively short timeframe, but the music that the album covers enclose are diverse, and range from Bach, Handel, Brahms, Philip Glass, Alvin Curran, Babes in Toyland and Sonic Youth; classical, folk, jazz, electronic and techno.

 

The viewer at Villa Lontana is allowed to choose the 'soundtrack' for the exhibition, by selecting an album of their choice. How do they make the decision? Someone may go in search for a particular record having heard it somewhere in passing. But the exhibition gives the sense of a slowed browse through a record shop where one goes to look for new tracks and picks out a piece via some selection process; does the cover, does the name, does the title, catch the eye? The relationship between painting and sound is famously explored by Kandinsky: "Shades of colour, like those of sound, are of a much finer texture and awake in the soul emotions too fine to be expressed in words". This might suggest to a casual browser that it is the image, rather than the title, that provokes them to open the music and listen to it.

Tauba Auerbach, between 2007 and 2021 for Effi Briest (Loog Records, UK), Up Died Sound (Bear Bones Recordings, US/CA), The Alps (Mexican Summer, US), Greg Fox (RVNG Intl., US) and Hiro Kone (Dais Records, US)

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Lucy McKenzie, Telebossa, Staubgold, 2011, & Erasure, Mute Records, 2006; Cinzia Ruggeri, Mattia Bazar’s Aristocratica, Ariston Music, in collab. Occhio Magico, 1984; Luigi Ontani, Ninos Du Brasil the retro for Novos Misterios, Hospital Productions, 2014; Nico Vascellari, Ninos Du Brasil, Muito N.D.B., Tannen Records, 2012 & Antro Pop, Codalunga, 2021; Emma Kohlmann, Greg Fox, RVNG. Intl., 2020, & Super Chunk, Merge Records, 2018; Kai Althoff in collab. David Grubbs, Primrose, Blue Chopsticks.

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Room dedicated to display of work by Sylvano Bussotti

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Tauba Auerbach, between 2007 and 2021 for Effi Briest (Loog Records, UK), Up Died Sound (Bear Bones Recordings, US/CA), The Alps (Mexican Summer, US), Greg Fox (RVNG Intl., US) and Hiro Kone (Dais Records, US)

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A few of the records are displayed on podiums, taking into account possible sculptural aspects. I'm reminded of a statement in Roger Shattuck's The Banquet Years, regarding Apollinaire's use of the word 'music' as a metaphor for painting not "burdened by any fidelity to external appearances", suggesting painting could 'learn' a certain depth or abstraction from music to free itself from surface. Like the quickly fleeing sounds of music, heard and then vanishing through the air, painting can gesture towards feelings and thoughts that cannot tied to succinct verbalised communication. Instead it is more the experience of a vague sensation and trust that this is somehow shared between people.

 

I feel this is sometimes how a collection or archive, in the first instance, in varying levels of order or chaos, sprawling items and documentation, has to be approached. As the director Peter Brook wrote, "When I begin to work on a play, I start with a deep, formless hunch which is like a smell, a colour, a shadow". To catalogue a collection, how do you begin to distinguish key features, words, to divide it into navigable parts? How do you display items to complement each other, for their surface and contents too?

 

This is perhaps how a visual response to music begins, with a "formless hunch", an outline, colour, sense. In the records on display at Villa Lontana, there were covers which appeared to take this abstraction as its starting place in introducing the sound within. For example, the shapes forming the covers by Josef Albers (1959-60) for US label Command with sounds by Enoch Light and The Light Brigade, Terry Snyder and The All Stars and The Command-All Stars for a series called Provocative Percussion and Persuasive Percussion, Tauba Auerbach's (2007-2021) for various US and UK based labels, as well as the more architectural forms of Nathalie Du Pasquier's series (2015) for Morphine Records with sounds by Pauline Oliveros and Ione, Pierre Bastien, Charles Cohen, and Senyawa. Bruno Munari has a range of covers, from obvious depictions of parts of instruments—bridges, bows, f-holes—to more sensuous non-figurative ones like the cover for Tchaikovsky's Pathétique Symphony, which is effective as a picture for this passionate piece.

 

There are also album covers by the artists of the sound of the record within. And there are striking projects that differ from the other albums, for example, ‘Siamo in tante... la condizione della donna nelle canzoni popolari e femministe’, published as LP and book in 1975 by Savelli, which was edited by Yuki Maraini with graphic coordination by Cloti Ricciardi. This was the first women's songbook written by women for women, intended as a collection of testimonies from perspectives in which every woman could recognise herself.

One section which continued throughout the course of the exhibition (while the rest rotated) was dedicated to Sylvano Bussotti and included covers for his own sheet music as well as displays of these manuscripts (these are part of Garerra's collection). A concert on 15 June 2022 celebrated his work, with Manuel Zurria on flutes, Paolo Ravaglia on clarinet and Jacopo Antonicelli on saxophone, and the display of his work was reopened for the event. The concert involved the unexpected 'participation' of Bussotti on piano. Three pieces stemmed from instrumental research conducted by Bussotti in the 1980s: Rondò di Scena for 4-flute virtuoso, Brutto, ignudo for contrabass clarinet and electronics and Ballerina Gialla e Pettirosso (1986-89) for saxophone; and SOLO (1966) re-imagined for the three instruments with the addition of environmental recordings and electronics. The scores' complex notion would suggest a need to improvise, and a trust in the emotions and connotations evoked by the diagrams and drawings of the 'score', reveals the influence of Cage's simultaneous use of the musical score as a visual artefact. Bussotti's use of the score in this manner meant frequent dismissal as being simply aesthetic. However they work not only musically or visually, but in the manner of calligrams, playing with the immediacy of the image and the temporality of the sound. Like the exhibition Images for Sounds, Bussotti's works interrogate various interactions between image and sound, and making images for sounds.

Villa Lontana

Sylvano Bussotti installation view at Villa Lontana

Before leaving this conversation, I wanted to make a note on another possible legacy of explorations of images created for sounds. A parallel might be found in music videos which although frequently depicting a scenario relative to the song lyrics, can also digress and make self-referential use of the visual element within the music video medium, complementing the song by creating a narrative different to the lyrics, possibly adding a different meaning. For example, in Indila's 'Tourner dans le vide' (2014), she is immediately absorbed by a painting of a sculptor. The film flips between the two- and three-dimensional worlds. While to all appearances Indila dances alone, for herself, the figure from the painting has stepped into her world of song. When the painting is attacked with a knife, dripping paint rather than blood, the figure vanishes; she steps into an alternative world of the painting and the song ends. Another example can be found in Glass Animals' 'Heat Waves' (2020) where the video comments explictly on the social condition of lockdown, then its ending, with the other band members appearing on TV screens in an abandoned auditorium, other than being the means of gathering in lockdown conditions, in its performative stage set-up and use of old TVs, bears resemblance to Nam Juin Paik's 'Exposition of Music. Electronic Television' (1963) and 'TV Cello' (1971), perhaps reflecting the influence of avant-garde film experiments between making images for sound.  

Photo credit: Simon d'Exéa.

Derek Horton - Jill McKnight: Desire Lines at Leeds Art Gallery
 
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Jill McKnight, Desire Lines at Leeds Art Gallery, installation view

In her exhibition, Desire Lines, (at Leeds Art Gallery from 25 March to 16 October 2022, following a six-month residency), Jill McKnight made extensive use of the British Library sound archive’s collection of accents, dialects, and folk music, as well as Leeds Art Gallery’s own collection of works on paper. Desire lines describe paths that are made by people taking their personally chosen route to a destination, often the shortest or easiest, regardless of the constructed pathways predetermined for them by planners. This is an apt metaphor for McKnight’s journey through the archives and for the paths through life carved by the working-class citizens of Leeds at the heart of McKnight’s project. Her own thought processes and research routes through her archival sources are mapped in her notebooks and reproduced at a large scale in vinyls on the gallery walls. These components of the exhibition provide a context for its presentation of voices describing and images depicting domestic and industrial labour, and the song, dance, storytelling and humour that people use to make it bearable, or as diversions from it.

Enlarged mind map vinyl

Although there are an increasing number of contemporary artists with roots in working-class communities (a trend now threatened, though, by the rapidly increasing costs of higher education in art, the precarity of artists’ careers, and the exclusionary aspects of art world structures) it remains rare for artists, as McKnight does, to make an overt declaration of their working-class identity. This exhibition demonstrates her commitment to celebrating working class culture without the shallow sentimentalism that so often pervades the voyeurism and appropriation of its art world colonisers.

 

In its mixture of depiction and description, bringing together drawings and paintings by artists from across the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries and audio recordings of oral history and folk song, alongside McKnight’s own video, performance, drawing and sculpture, in a single small gallery space, the exhibition avoids sensory overload or conceptual incoherence through an unusual sculptural strategy. A large sculpture, Structure of the Everyday (2022), made of six intersecting sheets of laser-cut aluminium, is the visually dominant centrepiece of the exhibition. It serves to bring together and interweave the diverse elements and intersecting themes of all the other works that surround it, incorporating in a simplified form, imagery drawn from the historic collection of works on paper, from the songs and stories from the sound archive, and from McKnight’s performance, drawing and smaller sculptures.

 Industrial Landscape, 2022

In their own way, the smaller sculptures themselves perform a similar function, threading together diverse aspects of the exhibition. Industrial Landscape (2022), for example, depicts a sheep’s legs, a cooking pot, and the landscape of an opencast mine, in a surreal object modelled in pigmented jesmonite, polyurethane foam and plaster. These elements reference the folk song The Derby Ram, kitchen labour, household crockery and a Victorian-era painting of opencast mine workings in Temple Newsam, Leeds, all included elsewhere in the exhibition, and the sculpture uses commonplace building materials in methods that allude to DIY and craft processes. Each of the other small sculptures combine visual elements drawn from other works in the exhibition in a similar way.

 

McKnight’s multidisciplinary approach to Desire Lines uses archival material to bring the personal histories and collective experiences of frequently overlooked communities into the gallery, giving voice, literally and metaphorically, to the women and working-class people of whom she herself is one.

Jill McKnight, Bubbles, 2022

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Jill McKnight, Installation view

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Jill McKnight, Singing Workers (after Jacob Kramer), 2022

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Jill McKnight, Bubbles, 2022

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All photographs: Jules Lister

 
Simon Linington - Bajo la Ruta from the Souvenir series
Simon Linington

Bajo la Ruta is a site-specific sculpture in la Ruta de la Amistad — the Olympic Park — in Mexico City. Standing six metres tall (and weighing approximately 3.5 tonnes), it is filled with asphalt, brick, earth, and volcanic rock, excavated from its immediate surrounding area. Through this material, it records, considers and exposes the significant changes in Pedregal's natural environment towards the urbanisation we see today.

 

This work is the most ambitious sculpture from the Souvenir series which display broken down materials typically in strata, in acrylic or glass vitrines. The series is named after the glass bottles and phials filled with coloured sands from the cliff at Alum Bay on the Isle of Wight, where the artist grew up.

Simon Linington
Simon Linington
Simon Linington
Simon Linington
Alison Lloyd and Linda Kemp - The #MeadowBehindBars
 

"Step through gaps in the zinc palisade fence to arrive within swathes of grasses unfolding to the edge of the city wasteland, terrace rooftops to the south, the zig-zag of the city to the west, and to the east the surprise of a wooded hill."

 

Artist Alison Lloyd’s visits to this site throughout the initial year of the pandemic, alone and with friends, became the #MeadowBehindBars. Alison and poet Linda Kemp are near neighbours and this series of photographs and poetic text is their individual and collective #MeadowBehindBars.

Text: Linda Kemp. Photographs: Alison Lloyd. Shutter pressed: Adam Grainger and Linda Kemp.

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1 Alison Lloyd and Linda Kemp - The Mead
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2 Alison Lloyd and Linda Kemp - The Mead
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3 Alison Lloyd and Linda Kemp - The Mead
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4 Alison Lloyd and Linda Kemp - The Mead
 
Phil Sawdon - A Snatch of Conversation
Akshay Bhoan - Relapse
 

In Akshay Bhoan’s book, Relapse NYC, photographic observations in New York City Subway are presented as dissected slides and fragmented visuals. These images are then layered, sampled and distorted by artistic interventions. Condensed to form a body, a sculptural block of monochrome, the piece analyses chaos through repeating occurrences, revealing hidden patterns which define social and environmental tendencies, systems and anthropological structures of the city.

relapse-01_bhoan.jpg

The piece is created through a nonlinear mass of black and white xerox-style photographs shot on a cell phone over 4 years. The medium chosen is a demonstration of a democratic process available to everyone — a copy machine, scotch tape, and a cellphone. Stylistically the images focus on singular excitations in the confined space — still experiences in a dynamic chaotic cell of the subway. Layered acetate transparencies build on the relationships with the observations as well as attempt to compress down the dimensions of the spatial experiences. Graffiti style sketches and writings combine the language of the city with the artists' correlations in abstract form.


 

Digital monochromatic print,

acrylic on acetate sheet,
17x11 inches, 2019

peppermint patty

ghetto things, it blows your mind
ghetto things, it blows your mind
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a day in overdosing freedom
a day in overdosing freedom
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mattress of bedbug tongue licking them contraceptives
mattress of bedbug tongue licking them contraceptives
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the sirens quit but the dogs haven't given up
the sirens quit but the dogs haven't given up
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scratch to win, beat the house
scratch to win, beat the house
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this is my life i guess, idk man
this is my life i guess, idk man
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tough little boys bullied into men
tough little boys bullied into men
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drags yourself awake on subway straps
drags yourself awake on subway straps
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my booth shivers my tooth aches
my booth shivers my tooth aches
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government cheese and rose sherbet
government cheese and rose sherbet
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they watch the ******* stuff
they watch the ******* stuff
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i lift my black veil. i drop my black mink
i lift my black veil. i drop my black mink
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Holly Rowan Hesson - Rethread

Rethread is taken from a projected work on multiple screens entitled Threaded. These images started life as photographs recording the changing Manchester skyline from a single vantage point. Captured out of focus and with the addition of unreal colour, they consider the process of documenting landscape and how this same skyline is now unrecognisable in the pace of growth and change in the city.

Holly Rowan Hesson, Rethread

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Holly Rowan Hesson, Rethread

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Holly Rowan Hesson, Rethread

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Holly Rowan Hesson, Rethread

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Sana Serkebaeva - iwantyoutowatch
 

Created during UK lockdown in collaboration with California-based composer Phi Bui, iwantyoutowatch aims to document the state of being ‘collectively isolated’. In preparation for the project, Sana Serkebaeva and Phi Bui conversed over email about sound weapons and noise pollution which allude to connections between attention and distraction.

Mik Godley - Considering Silesia
 

Considering Silesia was exhibited at the Attenborough Arts Centre of the University of Leicester, 7 June - 3 September 2021.

 

This project was initiated in 2003 when Godley got his first computer and, through drawing and painting, documented his process of discovering the internet and new media. Simultaneously, Godley researched his heritage, further expanding this into an exploration of Anglo-German identity, and his mother's contested land, Lower Silesia, which was once German and is now Polish.

Mik Godley

Considering Silesia, installation view, Attenborough Arts Centre, 2021. 

"It became an examination of the conflicting heritages, history, and population displacements or forced migrations, which I quickly realised had many contemporary social and political resonances, but equally an investigation into the qualities of the still new digital media, how it looked and what it meant, from a painter’s perspective."

Mik Godley - Considering Silesia

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Mik Godley - Considering Silesia

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Mik Godley - Considering Silesia

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Mik Godley - Considering Silesia

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All photos credit: Reece Straw courtesy Attenborough Arts Centre, University of Leicester, and Visual Arts Officer (curator) Rachel Graves

 
Fabian Peake - love felt the notes

there is no love felt the notes

side of so many in all all pasted to

now the noise in an arc what

a yellow skip and short are I should

that yard THE EMOTION case number

for the brown vehicle on they

so many walks there was first

gone and feeling as they swish on

with the moods tagging along

all (what is felt?) the buildings are

there will be a buzz that the door’s white

accompanying THE BANGING

willy-nilly he walks here called

grab the lengths of timber and swing

don’t think that your steps or killed

she said she said she said nibbling

each will hold hands with uncertainty

callousness and a peeled if rubs shoulders

there is a lull at least and he

a coat round his shoulders

the I don’t know who – that’s who

are not lashed to a blue atmosphere

the drip has stopped was jukked

you prefer it like that like it prefer you

and out of the other (no mention) blandness

it’s paid for or rather not cutting

into that rubberised skin

 
Joanna Byrne - Un-projectable

"A piece of microcinema composed entirely of fragments of 16mm film cut from newsreels, documentary, drama and propaganda films from the 1940s-1990s. Each frame has been individually tape-spliced to the next to form a hand-made montage or patchwork of ‘found’ images. As a result of the number of physical cuts and splices in the celluloid filmstrip, this Frankenstein's monster cannot be brought to life through the beam of a 16mm projector. Instead, the filmstrip has been resuscitated via pixels: meticulously scanned frame by frame, it is now re-animated in the digital realm."

Michelle Forrest-Beckett - Mummy
 
Michelle Forrest-Beckett

Michelle Forrest-Beckett's work has recently been concerned with what might be described as "stratified relations where breakdowns in communication accumulate and become compressed over periods of time, materialising in the form of data abstractions."

 

Forrest-Beckett describes her process, and the interrelationships between the text piece included here alongside the photographic 'exhibits' below:  

 

"I instigate symbiotic relationships with machine learning to record and document a working-memory process, executed through a mash-up of word-associations and colour-coding, using web searches, web links, and algorithmic playlists. What culminates though this study of alternative, artificial-human language forms, is a wholehearted performance (or even a performance of holes), where glitches create fissures and fault lines, that permeate the mind, the body, and its environment.

"Thinking of the term mother tongue; the language that a person grows up speaking from early childhood, I began working with the colours that I grew-up around, which had left their impression upon me; circa 1989 to 1994.


"These colours were never just a fresh lick of paint, but layer upon layer of a new colour that mummified the surface and the previous colours beneath. I recall the breath-taking feeling of these colours suffocating me as they filled the walls, even flowing through to the furnishings, and up onto the ceiling. What if these colours sucked the room of air and somehow embodied all the various communications and the utterances within that space? Each layer of colour captured in ‘Exhibit A’ through ‘E’ are mapped in the spreadsheet-image 'Fault Lines’, where words have been sourced to recover what may underlie each smothered colour."

Forrest-Beckett's practice incorporates Playlists for a Practice, including a three track playlist for this work Playlist for a Practice: 'Mummy', 2022.

Michelle Forrest-Beckett, Mummy - Exhibit A

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Michelle Forrest-Beckett, Mummy - Exhibit B

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Michelle Forrest-Beckett, Mummy - Exhibit E

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Michelle Forrest-Beckett, Mummy - Exhibit A

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Sarah-Joy Ford - Touching the Archive
 

Archive Fever

 

There are many kinds of archive.

The very notion of archive, after all has been critiqued and expanded, mobilised and democratised, misused and misappropriated by academics, activists and artists.

It’s institutional specificity frittered away.

 

But this is a proper archive, part of a proper library.

This is an Archive with a capital A.

Archive as in an the silent repository of official documents,

with a regulated space in which to view them.

Momentous in pale stone it watches over the town and the grey sea that rages, just beyond.

Howling winds and the slight smell of the shore greet me just before the revolving doors.

Sarah Joy-Ford

The archive is a system of conventions, established and maintained with the hope of preserving the documents of history.

The archive is the portal to elsewhere, a bureaucratic pathway to another time.

If only you know the way, and of course the local customs.

 

It is here -within this quiet theatre of knowledge,

that preservation and access; play out their toxic entanglement – in perpetual quiet rage.

They push and and pull away; between wanting to be saved, and wanting to be seen.

 

You must lay your reverence down at the feet of Clio – that flickering muse,

who begs you, come follow.

take up your pencil and paper – step into the river.

Through ritual we might transcend – to the original, to the authentic, and to the truth.

 

Up the stairs. Things locked in the locker. Locker locked.

Enter the cavernous reading room. A hallowed hall filled with desks, and lined with books all the way up to the ugly balcony railings and white domed ceiling.

Forget readers card. We cannot admit you without a readers card. Return to retrieve readers card.

Finally I am scanned and assessed at the desk – an owl eye following me up and down – the glass gates part.

I am presented with my summoned manuscripts and deposited at a desk.

Sarah-Joy Ford

I know this is a proper archive from the pencils only policy.

I am told this by the receptionist at the front desk, in the reading room and by a big ugly sign.

I try and take a photo of the sign but immediately two librarians swoop in on me

You are not allowed to take photos inside the reading room

You can only take photos of the manuscripts inside the reading room

You must delete the photo

Now

She watches me peering, leering over my screen

I am a scolded child – a naughty, nasty millennial social media junky.

Suitably shamed, I scurry back to my desk.

 

I am presented with a pair of bright blue surgical gloves.

‘These items are restricted, you will need to wear gloves to touch them.

Expect for this one, this one is not restricted’

 

The archival glove, normally white cotton glove (rather than ugly blue latex) - is an icon of reverential document handling.

A ritual garment, a sign of respect to the past – a necessary safety measure to protect the precious treasures of history. Imagine looking at some treasured text in a dusty archive – you are wearing white gloves, are you not?

Sarah-Joy Ford

There is an erotics to this curtailed encounter. A strange pleasure in restriction.

Keeping the paper safe from your filthy hands.

Slipping into the powdery latex, I am assured what I am about to do is important, official.

It is still the pandemic so my mask must stay on too.

I am ready for good, clean archival research.

 

Before hospitals, surgical gloves make me think of fist fucking

1980s advocacy, and pornography preaching safe sex

In a different time, and

In a different pandemic. 

 

Gently lifting the creamy pages

To reveal hand script framed by blue margins. The letters curl elegantly.

I think of her sitting, writing, meticulously mimicking the letters. Holding each word in her mouth even just for a moment.

 

Tightly bound in latex, my fingers flip through the pages turning cold.

That thin layer between us – a denial of touch. A miniature cloud of steam gathers in my glasses as I lean in closer

A second blue skin pulling at my joints

My movements are restricted – 

My finger tips dulled and denied

Trying to feel my way through.

Sarah-Joy Ford

I slip my fingers beneath the next page, lifting gently.

Brushing up against the fragile edges.

I notice the tiniest fleck from the darkened corner fallen onto the pillow beneath.

 

The national archives are one of the many institutions that no longer use gloves as standard with archival materials, - and condemn the continued perpetuation of their ubiquity in representations of archival work in film and television.

advocating their removal for paper in particular

Paper needs to be touched by bare skin.

Unbound from this particular ritual we are able to enter into more meaningful material intimacies.

 

The gloves dull our senses.

– we can listen to the pages – 

Our finger tips tell us secrets

 

If flesh is dirty, gloves are dirtier.

You can't wash them before each encounter, like your hands.

The white cotton clings to the detritus of everywhere else you have been.

Although some materials do call for gloves; like metals, fabric and some types of film;

When handling the fragile pages of precious documents

the glove is at best a hollow signifier, and at worst a dangerous illusion.

Sarah-Joy Ford

But other archival apparatus is not so sinister

I love the way

It feels to lay out these fragile things

On a pillow made just for books

Their shattered spines resting

In the soft impression –

held gently, as only fabric knows how.

 

And the book snakes that coil from the cupboard

Luxuriating – stretched out and across the pages

their heavy bodies pressing,

Holding the pages down so sweetly

 

 

 

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Part of the documentation of a performative intervention in Castlefield Gallery's archive as part of the Archives at Play exhibition (6 March 2022 — 24 April 2022) curated by Thomas Dukes.