The open framework that provided the foundation for the MAP project was supported via the public art commission’s emphasis on providing selected artists with the foundation to develop process-driven projects that sought to incorporate various resources represented by the council. The commission stressed that these resources could relate to permissions, infrastructure, or even to a professional working community as a site within which to produce and enact a conceptual artwork. Still, working in this way felt somewhat precarious from the outset. Dialogues that assert both a sense of general neglect as well as a positive ambition as regards working to activate the urban sound environment require leading others to grapple with a re-conception of the city that is not necessarily well-formed (as a development strategy) or comfortable (as an institutional or civic responsibility).
As I presented different ideas through these conversations, I drew upon different points of reference to contextualize my interests in sound, public space, and more established strategies that were in place within this specific local authority and enacted through the work of the various departments with whom I convened. I worked with small groups and individuals, at times staging formal meetings or presentations, and at other times pursuing more informal conversations. In order to explore this more ephemeral dimension of the MAP project in the context of this paper, I will highlight a selection of elements that I included in my communication.
I often introduced the MAP project through general statements defining the ambition of working with sound in the context of urban planning, or even within a more general urban design context. For example, I would start with an adaptation of the first paragraph of the preface to the American urbanist Kevin Lynch’s book The Image of the City, published in 1960. This book discusses the notion of imageability, developing an objective perspective of how a city is visually experienced. Its trajectory might serve as a blueprint for similar considerations of urban space as considered from an aural perspective. Lynch begins:
This book is about the look of cities, and whether this look is of any importance, and whether it can be changed. The urban landscape, among its any roles, is also something to be seen, to be remembered, and to delight in. Giving visual form to the city is a special kind of design problem, and a rather new one at that. (Lynch 1960: v)
I altered the text to serve as a preface to the MAP project:
This project is about the sound of cities, and whether this sound is of any importance, and whether it can be changed. The urban landscape, among its any roles, is also something to be heard, to be remembered, and to delight in. Giving acoustic form to the city is a special kind of design problem, and a rather new one at that.
This familiar reference established a solid foundation at the outset of these conversations. As I worked through the project, developing such strategic points of transition to shift between more conventional approaches to working with the city to working (or thinking) through the medium of sound became a useful technique for stabilizing the introduction of my working methodologies.
Given that I was approaching the project from the perspective of sound art and practice-based research, I chose to continue my presentations by examining examples of sound art developed in public and urban spaces, reviewing a selection of Max Neuhaus’ permanent sound installations as well as a series of works that have been presented more recently via the Bonn Hoeren project framework. Looking at these projects on a conceptual level, in relation to the sites in which they were installed, through examples of printed and visual documentation, and also in the context of installation and maintenance, provided fixed design (or production) scenarios with which people could engage, regardless of their professional background or position within the council. From my perspective (trying to discuss the relationship between these sound installations and the sites in which they were installed), this provided a comfortable focus for the presentations, as I could choose to present my own working practice as an artistic gesture or as a legitimized institutional presence.
Following a discussion of these sound installations (and the production frameworks in which they occurred), I would try to sense if there was an interest in discussing the concepts and methodologies developed at CRESSON and the applied methods that have evolved through the work of Björn Hellström and Trond Maag. We discussed sections of text concerning sound and public space by Brandon LaBelle and Ultra-red. We also referred to the European Environmental Noise Directive (2002/49/EC), current noise-mapping strategies, the designation of quiet areas within the city, and other more conventional noise mitigation strategies that are currently in place – which most people (outside of the traffic noise and air quality unit) were largely unaware of. Simultaneously, we linked these discussions to local issues that were currently active within the city, ensuring that the project’s focus on the urban sound environment would be set within a broader context of how the city of Dublin was evolving.
Although quite time-consuming, these conversations always felt productive. The project’s trajectory as a discursive vehicle emerged not as a linear progression, but through a circularity and a sense of repetition that became my prevailing mode of operation. A single conversation was never enough to set a given idea in place; it was only after I had voiced a concept on several occasions that it might begin to gain a bit of traction. Spending time pursuing my own project set within the council allowed me to witness that this was the case with many projects or initiatives, diligently pursued by those who sought to introduce new working methodologies that were positioned somewhat outside of the more established responsibilities taken on by the council. This may seem obvious, but working this way feels in some ways to be a direct contrast to the ethos engendered via the pressures encountered in contemporary art and academic research praxis, in which the fetishization of novelty and innovation often shifts working focus away from patient repetition and the revisiting of ideas already on the table, and towards a scramble for anything that is considered “new.”
Pursuing these dialogues on an ongoing basis also highlighted that working towards public sound installations as a form of output for the project was more legible to those with whom I was working than attempting to work more closely with existing noise mitigation strategies, or trying to introduce more strategic actions related to the sound environment within draft development plans. Discussing the formal aspects of urban sound installations – as concise design scenarios focused on discreet sites – quickly produced more action-oriented plans than seeking to integrate more discursive design methodologies within work that was already underway within the city. This reflected the city council’s desire to see real-world situations in which Dublin’s sound environment could be presented (both within the council and to the public) as an active site of production. At the same time, this focus was a response to practical constraints linked to the project’s timing (as a public art commission), given that working towards these installations primarily relied on work that I could develop independently within my own schedule, before liaising with the right teams within the city council for support with installation, site-integration, logistics, project administration, and PR.
Within this context, my goal was to frame the public sound installation as a hybrid project that could be seen simultaneously as both a public artwork and as an urban prototype executed by the council. Demonstrating that such prototypes were premised upon functional strategies directly related to other civic responsibilities provided me with a core engagement through which I could sustain longer conversations about the subject of sound in relation to public spaces in Dublin. I proposed several concepts for sound installations to various departments, and two of the more ambitious projects quickly gained enough momentum to move forward. One of the installations, Continuous Drift, was completed in July 2015, while the second, Glass House, has been previewed as a prototype with a schedule for full installation in 2016. Both of these installations were devised not only as interventions that would activate conversations (both in the council and within the public) when evaluated as public artworks, but also as situations through which to explore specific problems related to the city’s relationship to the development and use of the sites in which the projects are being installed. These two installations will be discussed in more detail in the conclusion of this paper.
During the time that I have been working towards these projects’ installation, the city council itself has undergone many changes. The senior urban planner with whom I was discussing the impact of the MAP project framework on a deeper and more sustained level has retired. A new city manager took office, and the interdisciplinary unit The Studio which had provided my point of entry within the council was effectively disbanded. Administrative control of the Temple Bar district in which Continuous Drift is being installed has been transferred from the Temple Bar Cultural Trust (a trust that had been set up to manage the Temple Bar region during its evolution as a planned cultural quarter) to Dublin City Council. Along with all of these changes, the logistics and permissions involved in pushing both of these projects forward to installation has been difficult, requiring patience and an ongoing trickle of strategic conversations with different people in the council. Every time the conversation moves forward to include a new participant, I find myself answering some of the same questions that I have been fielding since the project’s inception. This brings me to the next section of this paper, away from the more visible public sound installations and towards the core of the MAP project as a conceptual work.