Blue Tears

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’ 1928.

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.

The installation

Corridor Entrance
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.

Lower Level
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.


Panel text

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 air.

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 them


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, promise
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, allegiance
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 favour, promise
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









  2004-05 © Russell Mills design: