Stage 1:

Fig. 1: Final choice for looped film for installation 'Memory that I am, yet that I also wait for...' (Title is from Maurice Blanchot’s 'The Last Man'.)

Fig. 2: Resaerch for looped film for installation 'Memory that I am, yet that I also wait for...' 

Fig. 3: Research for installation 'Memory that I am, yet that I also wait for...' 

Figs: 4–7 – 'Memory that I am, yet that I also wait for...'  Installation, Karst Exhibtion Space, Plymouth, 2013. 

The two sites of exhibition were the Karst Gallery Space [Space 1] in Plymouth (August 2013) and Plymouth Arts Centre [Space 2] (November 2013). The scale and nature of both places could not be more dissimilar. I was surprised at the impact the differing spaces had on the installation, shifting the meaning and contextualisation of the installation and bringing into view the notion of trauma as something present in the space or the field.


Space 1 was a large, white, sun-filled space of approximately three thousand square feet (279 square metres) with skylights and pillars. Space 2, in contradiction, was a small, carpeted, almost domestic interior at the top of an old building. Both sites presented acoustic and visual installation challenges; equally challenging was the transfer of the moving imagery from computer to DVD, in which the imagery ironically ‘broke apart’ and pixelated. The frustration of constantly returning to the corrupt file in Premiere Pro, exporting it numerous times in various versions, and burning DVDs over and over became symbolic of an attempt to resolve the memory and the inner compulsion to repeat, which in this instance centred upon fixing or making ‘right’ the footage. It drew on a resource to take control and master the situation or, as Caruth wrote in Unclaimed Experience (1996: 62), ‘the attempt to overcome the fact that it [the trauma] was not direct, to attempt to master what was never fully grasped in the first place. Not having truly known the threat of death in the past, the survivor is forced, continually, to confront it over and over again.’ In a final effort the choice was made to incorporate the pixelated material into both exhibitions by presenting the moving imagery on an older screen in Space 1, which distorted the DVD glitches into oblong shapes, and in Space 2, to project the imagery onto the white wall of the building.


In Space 1 the DVD screen, positioned in an unlit alcove facing the main space entrance, was accompanied by two Genelec speakers installed on the floor just inside the doorway into the main gallery; a third Genelec speaker was positioned in the far corner of the gallery space on a stand placed intentionally just below human height to encourage the audience to lean down to the speaker. In Space 2, the footage embedded into the space through projection meant that the projector became an extra object within the room, which blocked the direct view of the audience and emitted a constant low humming noise, two Genelec speakers were positioned diagonally opposite each other, and four-smaller Gale speakers were placed around the edges of the room.


The multi-layered sound component of the artwork, installed in both spaces, was the second recording of my voice – the first was too raw and emotional to use. Composure became an essential part of the retelling of the traumatic memoir to create a measured space between the words, the remembering, and the sharing of the memory. The drone, made up of the WTC wind, was stretched beyond recognisability and maintained the resonance of the towers, which although physically gone are still a fixed cultural memory, both as architectural objects and as the site of a trauma. The held inhalation was an anxious breath that, through its rendering into sound and externalised from the body, travelled with the recording of the wind through the column laden space of Space 1 and contradictorily seemed heavy and soporific in the dark interior of Space 2.

Clip from 'Memory that I am, yet that I also wait for...'  Installation, Karst Exhibtion Space, Plymouth, 2013. 

Installation image: 'Memory that I am, yet that I also wait for...'  Plymouth Arts Centre, Plymouth, 2013. 

Moving Image fragment: 'Memory that I am, yet that I also wait for...'  Installation, Plymouth Arts Centre, Plymouth, 2013. 


Five minute sample of  'falling' which was the voice part of the layered sound installation 'Memory that I am, yet that I also wait for...' (for optimum listening use head-phones)

Stage 1. It would be difficult to locate an individual over the age of twenty-five who does not have a story or relationship with the events that took place on 11 September 2001, who does not remember exactly where they were when the Twin Towers were hit. When the first plane flew over my building in downtown New York, I was on the phone with my brother in London, who had just found out he was to be a father; mid-sentence, the loud and heavy drone of a low flying plane filled the room. ‘What was that noise?’ he asked. Minutes later, in the near distance, there were the sounds of an explosion, my building shook. NPR (National Public Radio) was on in the background, a man shrieked ‘Oh my God! Oh my God! A plane has just flown into the North Tower.’ The phone went dead; the radio followed.


This research has become a personal unravelling or excavation of memory navigated through the collective cultural memory of hundreds of hours of footage and imagery of 9/11 found on the internet, in particular on YouTube ( The attack on the Towers produced a spectacle so incessantly witnessed and photographed that almost instantaneously the world was awash with hundreds and thousands of images, digital freeze frames, and videos telling and retelling the collapse and destruction of the day. The digital imagery, viewable at the moment of taking, occupied the same time and place as the event recorded and indelibly anchored the disaster in a specific time. With little delay between the event and seeing the picture or footage, the imagery ostensibly became part of the event. The sheer volume of testimony, photographs, and digital video footage from that day and in the months that followed directly interconnected the documentation with the disaster – documentation that had embedded within it the power to anticipate a future looking back.


Memory that I am, yet that I also wait for  is a layered sound and film installation that was exhibited in 2013 in two separate locations. It comprised abstract digital film footage from 11 September 2001, a woman’s voice (my own) reading from a journal from that time, and a low bass drone of the wind from the top of the Twin Towers recorded in 1973 layered over a held breath (again my own). Collecting the visual imagery required a constant return to the site of trauma on multiple levels: inside my body and within my memory and externally, as the traumatic memory shifted into the cultural field and onto the screen. Navigating the remembering was an active physiological endeavour, in which monitoring the excitation and emotional responses when watching the footage provided insight into the subjective negotiation of the traumatic memory. Flashbacks returned through dreams and intense moments of olfactory recall. Around the anniversary of 11 September when the research began, my skin reddened, as it had back in 2001, with blisters from the acerbic and toxic wind. My body functioned as a somatic bridge between the traumatic past and the present. Luckhurst (2008: 3) wrote of ‘a piercing breach of a border that puts inside and outside into a strange communication’ that ‘opens passageways between systems that were once discrete’. Controlling the speed of the digital footage provided but an illusory measure of containment; freeze framing the footage on the computer screen or turning off the sound were superficial attempts to keep the flooding at bay. Tracing the pathway of trauma backward through the levels of excitation, the flashbacks challenged the protective shield of which Freud wrote:


Such external excitations as are strong enough to break through the barrier against stimuli we call traumatic. In my opinion the concept of trauma involves such a relationship to an otherwise efficacious barrier. An occurrence such as an external trauma will undoubtedly provoke a very extensive disturbance in the workings of the energy of the organism, and will set in motion every kind of protective measure. (Freud 1922: 22)


Circling the periphery of the memory, I was particularly drawn to the hours of footage of the tower’s burning clouds of smoke; I found the abstraction of colours from the many digital cameras used at that time seductive, which coincided with the distortion of remembering that arises from the passage of time. Using a macro lens I focused on parts of the clouds, wanting to get close to their texture, using the grid of the computer screen as a holding space, a level or horizon that one gazes upon when feeling queasy. David Campany (2008: 57) wrote about the incorporation of still images into moving imagery and claimed that ‘while the freeze frame may show the world at a standstill, it cannot articulate the experience of such a state. Faced with the freeze the viewer is thrown out of identification with the image and left to gaze upon its sudden impenetrability’ – which in this instance, created a welcome distance from the events: the freeze frame held the events in suspension and therefore delayed the full remembering. After hours of watching and rewatching footage I selected three sections of clouds and slowed down the speed of the footage: the first was from just after the explosion of the first plane hitting the North Tower, the second from the explosion of the second tower, and the final piece was of the collapse of the Towers.

The different layers of the sound installation were originally created in synchronicity, and like the visuals were to loop continuously; however, when played on two separate operating systems, the sound slipped. This misalignment became an important feature: the slippage set a precedent for an ongoing notion of imbalance, thereby creating insecurity within the space. The layering of the projected imagery onto the sound and the misalignment of the voice and the drone re-enforced the concept of slippages of memory – breaks in remembering that disrupted the continuity and account of the story, breaking the temporal trajectory and highlighting the struggle of remembering. The sound sculpturally dissected the space and questioned the body’s relationship or orientation within the space; its presence and its absence created a complex interaction between the work and the audience.


There was one set of doors into Space 1, which were left open. The installation (compared with Space 2) was empty but for the black speakers against white walls and the sunlight pouring in through the skylights. Through continual listening to the drone, feeling it in different parts of my body depending on the volume, it appeared no longer to originate from the two speakers but from everywhere in the space. I experimented with the sound of the voice, lowering it to such a degree that one was forced to lean in really close to the speaker. Throughout the day the sun moved across the space, as bright as it was on the day the towers fell, a brightness that challenged and contradicted the deep and heavy sounds. Just outside the main exhibition space at Karst there was a point where all the components of the exhibition merged, a place where the words from the distant voice reverberated and echoed off the walls, the lower bass drone rumbled under my feet, and the moving imagery was clearly seen. The voice seemed to be carried, uninterrupted by the drone, and carved out a direct passage through the reverberation. The drone held and contained the space, creating depth that gave an audience permission to wade through it toward the voice – a voice that was once mine but was now outside me, just a woman’s voice, any woman’s voice, and its otherness, its separateness, provided comfort. Dislocated and disembodied, the voice moved through the stripped-back and simple space. Its emptiness was an escape from the chaos, from the infringement of others, from a mind full of clutter and the noise of the past. Positioned on the periphery, I viewed the exhibition from the darkness and was struck by the existence of an external part of me that now had form. Separated from the voice that echoed and bounced around the room I was in a position to hear the nearby church bells that drifted in from the distance and the sounds of gulls sliced by the noise of passing cars’ tyres on the road and in so doing I was building and creating new memories.


The experience in Space 2 was very different, for the audience was enclosed into a dark, unheated space. The effort in installing the exhibition in Space 2 was as demanding as the space itself and involved travelling back and forth between the university and Plymouth Arts Centre, running up and down stairs in search of the right leads to match the right fittings for the speakers. It was a small carpeted room with white walls and with three windows that I had taped up and blacked out but which continued to rattle in the wind. The size of the space (8 m × 6 m) was close to that of the room in New York where I first watched the news of 11 September 2001. The darkness was broken by the projected footage that flickered on the wall with an impermanence that fitted the scene it depicted. The scale was disturbing, in that this huge event was now contained in a small square of projected footage far from New York – the transference of trauma from site to site. I smelt from running up and down the stairs with the speakers. My sweat now embedded into the piece of work and into the room was accompanied by my tears – a room that so soon after was filled with people. I was reminded of Teresa Brennan’s (2002: 69) words, ‘rank with the smell of anxiety, I breathe this in. Something is taken in that was not present – at the very least, not consciously present – before. But no matter how thoroughly my system responds to the presence of this new affect, it is the case that something is added’. My smell was not the stench of anxiety rather it was of frustration, of remembering the past that leaked from my pores, of the toxic smell of burning smoky clouds. It was the frustration of wanting to communicate this part of my memory clearly and precisely and yet feeling as if in some way the work was falling short of my intention.


The four small Gale speakers in Space 2 were arranged on the floor around the edges of the room out of which the words from the journal flowed. Within this particular space the voice did not so much speak as ask one to bear witness; it was relentless and reminded me of what it was like to be in New York back then, of what it has felt like to hold the memory at bay for all of these years. The drone permeated the unyielding repetitive voice and I became aware (unlike in Space 1) that there was something missing, something left unsaid, lying just there under the words, moving with the drone throughout the space. I was unsure of what was missing and I had nowhere to go but back to my own memories, to my own recollection, in an attempt to locate the lost fragments. Reflecting on this, the footage began to become abstract, its repetition triggering a whole deluge of falling memories. I searched for the seam within the repetition in an attempt to slow things down. The hypnotic imagery began to swallow me up as I continued to wait for what was missing to be revealed. Faces began to appear within the imagery – ghosts – that seemed to increase in intensity accompanied by the sound of the drone. In hindsight the spectral was taking hold and demanding further exploration, leading me into the next stages of research.

'Falling' – Complete voice and sound component of installation 'Memory that I am, yet that I also wait for...' Plymouth 2013.

Five minute sample 'falling' the unedited WTC wind which became 'The Drone' part of the layered sound installation 'Memory that I am, yet that I also wait for...' (for optimum listening use head-phones)

fig. 7