Yesterday I booked tickets to Liverpool for the weekend, where I’m going to record sound and draw maps for There In Time, the Bridewell Gallery‘s contribution to the Biennial Independents strand. My original idea for the artwork has moved on a lot since I originally discussed the show with Jo the curator, and it feels like the amount of change has been increasing exponentially as the install date approaches.

I think two of the main changes sloped in while I was sitting with my work for hours on end during the Citations Lifted Loose exhibition, which we just took down on Sunday. Reflecting now, I think the overriding concern in the body of work I showed there was not only the tension between art objects and life objects, but more specifically the threat to authenticity (whatever I can mean by that) that surrounds things like the holders I make, which claim to serve a purpose in real life. I won’t go into it now because I’ve scraped some of the problems together here and here.

It’s a threat I find problematic and one that I want to work my way out of in the long term by making things that press up against it until it gives way. But that’s a long way away, and for the Liverpool show I want to keep clear of this particular difficulty by following the lead of my Citations works for which the problem doesn’t apply.

Some of the objects in the show didn’t suggest any such threat at all, for instance the forks spinning on rotary motors, the pencil drawings, the eight spiteful cups, and the teabag in the egg-collecting cabinet. Clearly the difference is that these are works that don’t reach back into the person who made them for completion. The holders set the scene for some artist-persona-user-maker person that fails to convince me; the other works are straightforward deadpan artworks. It sounds like an obvious distinction to make, but it hadn’t been clear to me until I spent time with the works and was able to judge which convinced me and which didn’t.

It’s turning out to be an important distinction for my work for the Liverpool show, because I want to make sure it stays straight rather than veering into this persona conceit which I’ve struggled against for a few years.

My intention in Liverpool is to walk around the Kensington area on foot and draw out my route in such a way that I straightforwardly describe my own navigation of the place. I expect the maps I draw will be essentially straight lines so that they follow my feeling of the route I’m taking which, after all, will always be forwards. Corners stop being corners once you’ve turned them. In fact here’s a sketch I did on a bus a couple of years ago, in which what really is a pretty complicated route came out like a mostly straight line:

Then again, here’s a sketch I did a couple of days later in which it looks like the bus took me almost back home again, when it did nothing of the sort.

So I suppose I don’t know what I’ll end up with. But the point is that I want the map to be a genuine communication rather than as the once-removed product of a mapmaking ‘art’ performance. I’m very concerned by what a fine line this is for me.

So the map’s the first thing, which brings with it this first challenge of authenticity at the level of the process.

The second thing is the sound I want to collect, and this part of the work will go some way towards ensuring the authenticity of the drawing process. I need to collect the ambient sound around me as I walk, and do it with sufficient detail that I can come back to London and recreate it all vocally. I haven’t decided yet whether it’d be better to record all the sound graphically or to use a tape recorder as a back-up, but the more I think about it, the more useful I think it would be to stick to graphic notation. It would both necessitate a personal urgency for drawing, as a communication to myself for when I’m in the sound room afterwards trying to replicate what will be a fairly complicated soundscape; and it would indicate a clear relationship between the maps and the sound, which will be experienced together in the gallery.

While I was with my Citations work last week, The Sound of Envelopes Coming From a Cupboard played continuously hour after hour. It’s a sound piece I adapted for the show and hid in one of the cupboards, and as I listened to the work over and over again it began to develop into a solution for the Liverpool sound.

Envelopes started life in 2006 as a three or four minute looped video I described on my website as “an experiment in non-linear writing using paper, tape and scalpel…

…In Envelope Constructions I concentrate on both the narrative contained by the text and the act of constructing the narrative. I work with envelopes because they are objects that I locate somewhere between things (figures) and paper (ground). The process of cutting, shaping, piercing, taping and sewing the envelopes enacts my process of writing, while the completed video is the location of the narrative I wrote: an incoherent, intentionally meandering narrative which always remains bound to the process of itself.”

For Citations Lifted Loose I used just the sound track to the video – crunchy, articulate, ernest activity that made a little boy ask WHO WAS IN THE CUPBOARD when he saw the show. I took great pleasure in listening to the sound hour after hour as the hands articulated gesture after gesture in the same vocabulary of crumpling sound, over and over again, never closing in on any kind of conclusion. There’s one point at which my breath is just caught, barely audible, and perhaps nobody else would notice it at all, but that too returns over and over, inconclusively, every few minutes.

I want to build on the process of this approach for There In Time. What I want to take from the cupboard work is the abstraction of careful activity into sound; the evidence of personal, intimate activity (the breath, the minutely detailed gesticulations); the resistance to clear, linear, narrative entry and exit points; and the use of sound to document an activity that’s otherwise absent. The incidental process of making the work is foregrounded both by the focus on the activity, and by the resistance to form any definitive conclusion or end product.

By recreating the ambient sound with my own voice I want to turn the noise outside into the sound of muttering, as though I’m talking to myself under my breath both as I walk and subsequently as I recollect the walk. Needs more thought but there’s time.

For now though I need a summary of this work for press…

Can you see me now? is a meandering exploration of the city documented with hastily drawn maps in biro and pencil. The maps double as the score for a vocal narrative without words, which recreates the noise of the city as a muttered words and sounds, like an absent-minded memory: intimate but just out of reach.
The work will installed at the Bridewell Gallery for the duration of the exhibition, when it will also be available to take away as an audio walk. Following the exhibition, the Can you see me now? audio walk will be accessible online as a printable map and audio mp3 file.
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