A multimedia installation by Russell Mills and Ian Walton
with sound design and production and film production by Russell
Mills, Mike Fearon and Ian Walton for the Silo Espaço
Cultural, Oporto. Commissioned by the Fundação
de Serralves – Museum of Contemporary Art. 24th March
– 24th May 2005.
Blue Tears explores the contrasts and/or
comparisons observed in the temporary and the fixed. A work
of gazes and of dialogues that leaves each his own space for
reverberations; the installation is concerned with vision
and the penetration of darkness as metaphors for our most
intimate concerns. It is a work of remembrance and of witness
in the ceaseless, torrential flux of time. It seeks to reflect
on the possibilities of the animate, organic, seemingly order-less
havoc of nature and the conversion of these energies into
new visual, audio and conceptual contours. It is both an ending
and a beginning.
“Landscapes can be deceptive. Sometimes a landscape
seems to be less a setting for the life of its inhabitants
than a curtain behind which their struggles, achievements
and accidents take place. For those who, with the inhabitants,
are behind the curtain, landmarks are no longer only geographic
but also biographical and personal.”
- John Berger, ‘A Fortunate Man’.
Allen Lane The Penguin Press, London 1967
“The richest events occur in us long before the soul
perceives them. And, when we begin to open our eyes to the
visible, we have long since committed ourselves to the invisible.”
- Gabrielle d’Annunzio, ‘Contemplation de la Mort’
Blue Tears is a term used to describe tears that
cannot be stemmed, despite all efforts, tears that flow in
extreme emotional states. As a title it also references the
paradoxical characteristics of salt, the main component of
tears, and of time - both are preserver and destroyer.
The Silo Espaço Cultural is an innovative exhibiting
space, conceived especially for the Norteshopping, the largest
shopping centre in Northern Portugal, situated in the Senhora
de Hora district of Oporto. Designed by the famous Portuguese
architect Eduardo Souto Moura and opened to the public in
1999, it is a 12 metres diameter, 2 storey high, open cylindrical
building. The ground floor is 5 metres high and the first
floor is 15 metres high, capped by a circular convex clear
glass roof. Stairs at one side of the building link the two
floors. A walkway at the first floor level rings the building,
allowing viewing throughout the building. The Silo Espaço
Cultural is linked to the Norteshopping centre by a wide corridor,
which is also used as part of the exhibiting space, thereby
conjoining the exhibiting space and the public, retail space,
encouraging public inclusion. Exhibitions in the Silo Espaço
Cultural are jointly commissioned and curated by the Portugese
Centre for Photography and the Fundaçao de Serralves
Museum of Contemporary Art.
A long wall is clad in corrugated metal sheets. At the entrance
from the shopping mall the sheets will be pristine, becoming
progressively more corroded as one moves along the corridor
towards the Silo exhibiting space. Spaced equidistantly along
the floor on the opposite side of the corridor are 5 x 44
cms square lightboxes, each facing up. Emerging from a mound
of salt crystals, they reveal montages of X-rays. Lights in
the corridor are covered in triple layered amber/gold gels,
soaking the whole area in a golden glow.
Top Floor/Entry Level
From floor to a height of approximately 18’, a 24’
– 28’ section of the curved wall is clad with
sheets of rusted corrugated metal, in varying states of corrosion
patinated by the saline sea air of the Oporto climate. A DVD
film is projected onto the metal-clad wall creating a slowly
changing veil of imagery approximately 16’ high. The
film shows a succession of X-rays of human skulls blending
almost imperceptibly into images of a nearly static live male
head. The live male head shows faces etched with history,
eyes opening and closing in extreme slow motion, perceivers
being perceived, consciousness made visible. Small facial
gestures unfold over exaggerated time spans. The X-rays of
skulls and live heads apparently emerge out of and disappear
into the metal sheeting over exaggerated extended periods
of time, thereby suggesting the reciprocal and uneasy symbiosis
between the environment and our habitation within it.
Mirroring the configuration of metal sheets on the top floor,
from floor to a height of approximately 16’ covering
an area of approximately 24’ wide is a wall of approximately
700 X-rays of human skulls arranged in a loose grid. A DVD
film projection onto this wall of X-rays shows a pair of hands,
similarly carrying traces of physical labour, moving through
a series of symbolic gestures - clasping they signify union,
folded they represent repose and immobility, crossed at the
wrists, binding or being bound, clenched, threat and aggression,
etc. Filmed and edited in extreme slow motion, the hands emerge
out of and disappear into the wall of skull X-rays over exaggerated
extended periods of time, alluding to both the neural and
the cultural links between the brain and the hand in our quest
for continuing progress.
The soundwork consists of highly magnified and heavily treated
sounds of natural phenomenal processes in movement –
ice cracks and movements on, in and under ice floes, stones
falling, earth sliding, waves building and breaking, and winds
through trees, etc. These are complemented by more musical
electro-acoustic elements. Utilising various recording studio
effects programmes, ceaselessly shifting 3D movements reference
processes of the natural phenomenal world and explore and
enhance the unique spatial architecture of the Silo. The individual
sounds, whilst apparently being paradoxically opposed to the
emotional associations triggered by the visual elements, allude
to the effect of climate and environment on the shaping of
our lives, personally, locally, historically, culturally and
socio-economically. The sound work is an asynchronous and
immersive sound environment created by the use of a multiple
6 CD and 12-speaker system in addition to the “in house”
PA system and its built-in 4 pairs of spaced speakers. Each
CD carries a different ‘menu’ of individual sounds
of varying lengths, as well as tracks of silence. With each
player set to ‘random shuffle’ mode, the multiple
‘menus’ continuously shift out of synchronisation,
thereby creating a self-generating, constantly changing mix
in real time. Consequently every visitor experiences a unique
and wholly immersive sound experience.
A Blue Tear is a slowly floating cloak of
particles. Stillness spiralling into life: a universe made
light. An aerial array of luminous powder, older than memory,
whirling, blown on the wind, penetrating all spheres, weaving
all knowing signs, hieroglyphs to the eye. Like a shoal of
silver fish, a shape- changing surf of shine, it heaves, crests
and pivots in a blink, as one. Or the granular enfolding of
a flock of birds; a mantle blackening the sky. Moving through
our sleep like the sea’s insistent breathing, a connoisseur
of the hidden, its blind fingers feelsees over sleeping slate,
stone and metal. Creep of now, lighter than itself, it etches
a dappled membrane, carving a glowing tracery the gold of
marmalade to red of furnace: an indelible ferric rebus.
A Blue Tear is an irrevocable law, an unceasing
relay of assemblage and dissolution, it quivers between the
certain sheer of the cliff and the swirling blue unknown below;
between light and the abyss, where the earth crumbles into
edges. A shuddering of the minute before the massive; the
world’s gradual instant; as it glimmers, it vanishes.
Mineral mother matrix holding signs of life in rock, messages
of the dead encoded in stone, it is the geology of objects
defined by the space in them.
A Blue Tear divides the world. Suspended
in the void between fingers reaching to touch fingers, or
where two eyes are mirrored, eye meeting eye. Invisible it
reveals the visible. It knows only edges and the space between
a shadow and its host. An alignment of signs, co-ordinating
movement invisibly from this place to another, from that moment
to this, its breathing is felt as it passes and parts the
A Blue Tear moves moon-slow or with the
whirr and scissors’ slice of a camera’s shutter,
sharp and sure, it defines a natural pause, an interval between
two or more phenomena occurring simultaneously. It moves,
is fluid, looking to change the static, neither still nor
stirring but touching all into meaning.
A Blue Tear is immune to the moon yet pulled
by the poles: vapour once ocean, it defies the tides from
which it explodes. Stolen in an instant it flies, wingless,
drifting, in negative shimmering with a spectral aura, its
own shadow seen in reverse: the mirror’s ghost seeking
to surface as skin.
A Blue Tear is a sentient lens telescoping
time, it crouches silently in the dark corners of rooms, defining
the points of the compass rose. Living in darkness or hugging
the hearth, it is held in a world of shadows, willing captive
in the hush of history, grounded in the familiar embrace of
home, where life is lived. It shouts in whispers of moments
salvaged from time passing, memories dense with meaning.
A Blue Tear is both form and shape-shifter
it is a secret made external, an outside that is inside, a
secretion, internal made external, an inside that is outside.
Wanting to roll back into its eye it slips its meniscus lip,
tips and seeps from within. Withheld until it can no longer
be, it escapes to a resisting world. As it falls it sculpts
bowls from stones.
A Blue Tear is filled with signs of the
ephemeral, manifestations in a cycle, fixing and solidifying,
it freezes movement. Unseeing it senses the moment of movement:
the fading and wilting of flowers; shadows cast on water and
the flickering moments of the soul as the last thin breath
plumes, ascending. Colours painted by light, bleached or eroded
by the rain, transfigured by time, anticipating destruction
in slow motion on the journey to extinction. Transformed from
one state to another, it gradually fades objects into shadow
stains of themselves.
Russell Mills, 2005
Poems and research notes
Eyes – beginnings and endings
Light unseals the eye. Iris-scalding
the optic nerve tears and vision blinks
before the word to say it.
Both life and the seen are born of light.
Before light the seen was unknown,
In one flash the visible was born,
the seen, verifying existence,
and the unseen confounding that existence.
The visible exists having already been seen,
a medium between seer and seen, the eye
a lens between the temporal and the timeless,
the invisible and the visible, the interior and the exterior,
the within and the without.
Eyes meeting eyes, a need to be witnessed by the other.
The eyes open shocked-wide,
glows bright and sees,
seeking out or returning the gaze of the other
as though mirrored in our light yet not though the eyes;
sucked in our seeing; riveted, the face inscribed
in a stare that drills holes in clouds.
The dark eye waiting to shine, gazes into emptiness
seeking moments salvaged from time passing,
or faces etched with conscience past or future,
of those no more, now invisible,
projecting outwards, registering inwards,
between dream and waking, seeing and being seen,
our transitory night’s journey over the edge,
till morning levers open the lids.
The moist eye veiled behind its moveable,
skin-covered curtain; a drape that rises and falls
between the incessant babble of an external world
and the perceived consciousness
of a gradual dimming of the light:
till in the end nothing more,
and shutters close.
Distance is internal (Roentgen discovers the X-ray)
In deepest dark a slow Morse semaphore
of flickering light dances softly on glass.
From the cardboard shrouded tube,
wide open, charged; volt-full light flares,
spans the air invisibly
to a screen three steps away,
which begins to glow.
Between light and screen
the hand slowly rises, fingers outspread.
Where the shadow falls light emerges
turning inside out, revealing the positive within,
flattening form into a two-dimensional shadow,
a lustrous distillation of time,
negative of the sun.
Zinc white light, brilliant
darkening skin with a radium kiss; searching for traces
conjures a sulky luminescence, milky and dense.
Bones edged with silver iridescence,
the muscles a soft film of mist, a fogged absence.
Thin veiled and translucent, an imprint of a frozen wave,
a shadow that lives fused with the body as one.
Skull / Head
Transitoriness of life; the vanity of worldly things; death;
memento mori; the moon; the shades; the dying sun; gods of
the dead, time. Conversely, a symbol of the vital life force
contained in the head. Alchemic: with the raven and the grave,
the skull is a symbol of the blackening and mortification
of the first stage of the Lesser Work ‘earth to earth’;
dying of the world; also that which survives and is used as
a reminder of life and transmutation.
Shadows / X-rays
Umbra nihili – the shadow of nothingness.
All are cast by shadows and all casts shadows,
all contain shadows as shadows contain us.
Shadows have no shadows even within themselves,
Like us, they die without light and yet light also erases
Aristotle’s seminal phrase, “instrument of instruments”
defines the hand as both an object and a body part: its inhabits
the liminal space between the object world (the world of tools
and weapons it employs) and (as the physical metaphor for
those instruments) the world of interiority, intentions –
of the self.
“The hands may almost be said to speak. Do we not use
them to demand, promise, summon, dismiss, threaten, supplicate,
express aversion or fear, question or deny? Do we not use
them to indicate joy, sorrow, hesitation, confession, penitence,
measure, quantity, number and time? Have they not the power
to excite and prohibit, to express approval, wonder, shame?”
- Quintilian (A.D. 40 – c. 100)
Sight-reading / Braille / knot alphabets / bookies language?
Religious and cultural differences in hand signs
Disembodied hands = the uncanny / possession and dispossession
/ to semaphore again / amplifier to hidden memory /
Symbolic attitudes of the hands:-
Clasping – union, mystic marriage, friendship, allegiance,
Folded – repose, immobility
Crossed at the wrists – binding or being bound
Open – bounty, liberality, justice, providence
Clenched – threat, aggression, demanding, prohibiting,
threatening, power, strength
Outstretched – blessing, protection, welcome, questioning
Placed together – defencelessness, submission of a vassal
before the sovereign, inferiority, inoffensiveness, greeting,
Placed on each other, palm upwards – meditation, receptiveness
Washing hands – denotes innocence, purification, repudiation
of guilt; denial
Wringing hands - excessive grief or lamentation
Covering the eyes – shame, horror, aversion, fear
Laying-on – transference of power and grace and healing,
promise, transmission of spirit
On the neck – sacrifice
Placed in another’s – pledge of service, the right
hand pledges the life principle, protection
On the breast – submission, attitude of slave or servant
Raised – adoration, worship, prayer, salutation, amazement,
horror; also the receiving of the influx of power; joy
Raised with palm outwards – blessing, divine grace and
Both hands raised – supplication, weakness, an implication
of ignorance, dependence, surrender; also invocation and prayer
Raised to head – thought, care or anguish
Shaking the hand forms the cross or ankh of covenant, a pledge
Right hand – hand of power; held up in blessing and
pledges the life principle
Left hand – passive aspect of power, receptivity; also
associated with theft and cheating