Feb 2017  Speculative writing, 'Birdsong'.

Like many of my activities in the early months of my research, this piece of writing seemed at the time like a non sequitur. An experiment, but certainly no more than a footnote in my work. I've included it here, however, because looking back, in common with many of the other activities I've undertaken during the development of my work, it has subsequently assumed a different significance in the light of the later developments in my practice: specifically, my development of speculative, creative writing as a response to my experience of site, and in particular prompted by my experience of making within those sites. This “situated” writing practice (as both work and exploratory response to work-making) has become manifest in such works as 'The Wrong Bodies' text work (2019) and the text of 'Between our words I will trace your presence' (2019-2020).

 

In this early instance, my writing was prompted by my unsettling experience of exploring the disused Haukeland children’s hospital, in early 2017, which in turn prompted me to recall an earlier experience of making work in an unoccupied twenty-one storey apartment building, filled with the sounds of failing smoke-alarms.

 

My writing, here, also recalls themes and motifs which have later emerged as significant to the development of my work: in particular, the focus on a secluded site, characterised by a hiatus or interval between public activity and an exploration of that site, which reveals some manifestation of presence within a setting ostensibly characterised by absence.

“birdsong”

 

(a response to the experience of photographing in Vernon House, an unoccupied 21 storey apartment building)

 

You can buy a domestic smoke detector of the type approved by local fire services from most local DIY stores. This is the type that is typically takes the form of a white disk maybe an inch thick, with a grille about the diameter of your palm. They typically have a small adhesive pad that allows you to attach them to a ceiling, though they can also be screwed in place. They are invariably powered by 9v batteries (the small rectangular ones with two terminals on the top surface, making it possible to put your tongue across them, receiving an uncomfortable electric shock).

 

These batteries last a long time, the energy consumption of the alarm unit being relatively low, but they do eventually fail. Since these fire alarms are normally silent and inert in operation (until triggered by smoke particles) it is of course important that once the batteries of these devices run dangerously low (threatening to render the alarm functionless), that there is some form of warning signal to alert the building’s occupier of this fact, so that the battery can be replaced. Although this warning signal could take a number of forms, an auditory warning is perhaps the least easy to miss or ignore and the manufacturers have opted for such a warning.

 

It takes the form of a periodic electronic “chirrup”. This chirrup lasts only a fraction of a second and is relatively infrequent, however, it is frequent enough and piercing enough to induce anyone forced to spend any extended period of time in proximity to it, to act and remove the failing battery (in the case of the responsible householder, replacing it with a fresh one).

 

One of these chirruping alarms is – from experience – an annoyance which will sooner rather than later prompt a response from you. The chirrup has presumably been designed to consist of a noise with which you do not want to co-habit and it is effective in this regard.

 

If you had fitted two of these alarms (maybe one upstairs and one down stairs) in a domestic property and if you had fitted their batteries at the same time, it is plausible, likely even, that you might experience two repeated, interspersed battery warnings, the chirrups of the two detectors working in relay.

 

Let’s now imagine a building on a different scale altogether, but quite a realistic proposition nonetheless. This is a building with around 120 apartments spread over some twenty floors, in all of which have been fitted smoke alarms. This building has been left unoccupied and untended for about eighteen months. The batteries have run low on all of the smoke detectors and almost all 120 of them are chirruping, not in unison, but at slight and irregular intervals of maybe a few seconds:

 

 

 

 

               chirrup…                     chirrup….

 

 

 

chirrup…

 

 

 

           chirrup…                                                                     chirrup…

 

The building’s already poor sound-proofing has been rendered poorer still by the fact that the local police have used the building repeatedly for “siege training”, as part of which they have smashed in almost all of the already flimsy apartment doors. This means that from almost anywhere in the building, you can hear this irregular chorus, each source placed at a variable distance from you the listener: to your left and right, in front and behind you, above you and below you; receding, spread across many floors.

 

The chorus is however most penetrating (and unsettling) if you stand in the central stairwell of the building, which is made of concrete (concrete stairs, concrete walls, metal banister) and runs unobstructed, an echoing, damp column of air that rises nearly lightless like a malignant spinal-cord through the core of the building, from basement to roof.

 

As you move through the building; its stairwell, its landings, its rooms, you move simultaneously toward and away from isolated nodes and clusters of sound. The sound remains fugitive somehow, since you can only be in one place at a time and once you locate one sound-source all the others then exist elsewhere, like echoes or phantoms; receding to the edge of hearing.

 

Now, begin to move slowly through this building.

 

Move hesitantly, because you cannot be wholly sure that you are alone. People do break in occasionally to steal one of the few remaining copper hot-water tanks. Try to ignore the fact that for your own safety you have been locked in. You have the caretaker’s number, but the reception in the building is not good.

 

No one else knows you are here.      Breathe.          slowly.

 

 

               chirrup…                     chirrup….

 

 

chirrup…

 

 

           chirrup…                                                                     chirrup…

Introduction

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Oct-Dec 2016, rolled bedding, recently vacated apartment room, Nygardsgaten, Bergen. Photograph 

 

Oct-Dec 2016, unoccupied rooms, forensic investigation training house, Nottingham. Photographs

 

Oct-Dec 2016, unoccupied room, forensic investigation training house. Video

 

Apr 2017 recently vacated room, asylum hostel, Voss. Photograph

 

Apr 2017 recently vacated room, asylum hostel, Voss. Video work

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Feb 2017, 'Birdsong'.

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Mar 2017 material from PKU Spring Forum, first presentation

 

Mar 2018 PKU Spring Forum, second presentation

 

Apr 2018 paper delivered to 2018 SAR conference, Plymouth

 

Mar 2019 PKU Spring Forum, third and final presentation

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May 2017 'A performance after a performance', Voksenåsen, Video work

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Aug - Oct 2017 video work: coats in corridor, chairs in gymnasium, nr. Helsinki; rolled-bedding, recently vacated apartment, Bergen

 

Nov 2017 the empty walls of DH's studio

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Oct 2017 'Between, Before, After, Elsewhere'. Exhibition at Kunstgarasjen, Bergen

 

Jan 2018 KMD, image and situatedness

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Feb 2018 'The objects perform themselves', Bergen. Photo & Video documentation of performance

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Mar 2018 CCFT fieldwork, Agios Sozomenos, Cyprus

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June 2018 initial tests with hospital ventilators. Video documentation

 

Apr-May 2019 'It's only when I rest that I sense your presence', installation, HKS, Bergen

 

Apr-May 2019 It's only when I rest that I sense your presence, text work, HKS, Bergen

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July 2018 'In silence', performance, Berlin. Audio realisation of performance and photo documentation

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Nov 2018 A Foreign Body: Absence, a denial of presence. Transplanting a Sitka spruce tree. Tælavåg. Video work

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Feb 2019 'Foreign Bodies, Empty Rooms', Bergen Natural History Museum. Audio-visual realisation of performance

 

Aug - Oct 2019 'The Wrong Bodies', installation, Bergen Natural History Museum

 

Aug - Oct 2019 'The Wrong Bodies', text work, Bergen Natural History Museum

 

Oct 2019 The Museum's Wrong Bodies, presentation at Bergen Natural History Museum

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July 2019 'Between our words, I will trace your presence' (1st iteration) performed at Cracking the Established order

 

Oct 2019 Between our Words... (2nd iteration), performed in UN Buffer Zone, Nicosia, Cyprus

 

Feb 2020 'Between our words, I will trace your presence' (3rd iteration) performance at Borealis Festival. Audio documentation

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Feb - Mar 2020 abortive (pre-Covid) plans for final artistic result at Bergen Natural History Museum.

 

May 2020 Lecture on revised work in progress toward final artistic result, to staff and students at KMD

 

October 2020 Artist's book, The Wrong Bodies, based on work on the body and institutional silence, at Bergen Natural History Museum

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Artistic Result

 

Reflection