Writings and Proposal

Proposal in development for an installation by Russell Mills and Ian Walton

Rather than the whims of monarchs or the rise of capitalism, it is vefetables and minerals that have had the greater effect on human history. The discovery of such staple products as sugar, tea, quinine, cotton, pepper and the potato or the more exotic offerings of the silk-worm, spices, gold and diamonds, has caused the fate of millions to be changed. From the rise of the Atlantic slave trade to the opening up of China, from the growth of early colonial powers to the greening of America, it is the phenomena of nature itself that has shaped our lives and our cultural evolution. Occupations, habitations, trade routes and the inevitable cultural exchanges caused by travel, have all been dictated by the hidden laws of the weather and natural resouces. The natural world being immanent, not fixed, is full of potential, its constant flux is necessarily open to continual change and adaptation. The chaos in unseem energies, the collusion and collision of the elements are triggers for ceaseless transformations.

Our awareness of the aesthetic of the natural world as being profoundly and inextricably political and economic has been shaped to a great extent by William Wordsworth's imperative that poetry, or in this instance the arts, should disclose in the workings of the universe, analogues for the workings of the human mind and soul. Following this dictum we propose an installation which is dependent on and which emphasises the primacy of process allied to an abandonment to the risk of the instant.

The ideas at the core of Relay are borne out of a genuine reverence for and a contextual relevance to culture, whilst also being concerned with contrasting the ephemeral and the enduring and the inherent links between the two. The installation aims to reflect on the possibilities of the animate, organic, seemingly random flux of nature and the conversion of these energies into new visual, audio and conceptual contours.

The installation

On entering space #1 one encounters two long rows of high shelving made of rusted corrugated metal sheeting four or five levels high. These form a narrow corridor which lead into space #2. Each sheet is supported by, and in turn is holding up, piles of old bound legal documents stained with the patina of time. Passing through this corridor, one examines these documents to discover that they are sheaths and sheaths of contracts, tenders, inventories and receipts, tattooed with florid signatures, copperplate witnesses to arrangements made and deals struck. They hold in microcosm, a history of the ebb and flow of goods and products, and the cultural possibilities brought by these imports and exports to a region, and by wider distribution to the growth of a nation itself. The rows of corrugated metal sheeting, laid horizontally support the weighty legal piles which are in their turn supporting the corrugated sheeting. Their rusted condition exemplifies the primacy of process; colours and textures etched by the relentless attrition of corrosive sea salt present in the coastal air - Nature's handwriting ceaselessly creating subtle and harmonious transformations. There is a correspondence between the two materials. Both have been ingeniously fashioned by man from the natural world, both hold histories of exchange and change and both have been altered over time by the effects of the environment.

In space #2 are five massive cuboid "brokes"* of waste paper**, lashed tightly and hovering in the air. Each is supended about one metre above the ground. Ready for re-cyling they are in a transistional state, waiting. Having stood patiently outside of a paper manufacturer's works for weeks, each is stained by dyes mixed with rain water. As metaphoric objects these represent trade, commerce and cultural ambition. They also signify goods imported and exported, and ideas exchanged and absorbed. Their bulk hanging precariously just above the floor, seemingly threatening to fall at any moment, is suggestive of an abandonment to risk, to chance and bravery necessary for any forward looking people, their perverse fragility echoing man's need to progress, to step into the unknown and to seek new knowledge - sometimes against potentially insuperable odds. Sculpturally they will appear to float in space, calmly defying gravity; masses of potential energy condensed into blocks - dynamos, batteries, dormant but charged. They hang in stark contrast to the small piles of legal documents, one being the polar opposite of the other. One is the start of a process, the other is an ending.

The sound

5 - 10 shortwave radios are to be adapted so as to continually and unsuccessively search the wavebands at extremely slow and variable speeds. The radios are to be linked to a laptop computer carrying the Logic Audio sound software. Each track is pre-set to a specific sound treatment which will transform its particular sound stream and then re-route the resulting sounds into the spaces through stero speakers located within the venue. Traceries of voices move in the air. Berlin merges with Stockholm, Stockholm with London. Melodies quiver into being and dissolve into stock reports. A Swiss religious service melts into Portugese Fado singing. A Russian stacatto news report grimly emerges from a fog of shortwave blips and fizzes into African percussion. A frantic Italian football commentary squeals over the calm of Mozart. Vocal shards sweep and fade across space to be echoed by intangible harmonies. An endless sound collage is ceaselessly mixing in real time, floating and weaving in and out of gentle drones which shift from heat haze shimmer to threatening cloud. Sounds of the elements glide and fuse with distant and stuttering mechanistic rhythms of industry. Transmissions threaten to lock onto specific frequencies only to slowly disintegrate into white noise. The radio, a unifying medium, used en masse will create an audio collage which mirrors both the cultural hybridisation of the contemporary world and the associative potential of random juxtapositions of sonic information loosed from its moorings and running out of control.

*"Brokes":- bales of various papers that are either no longer in production, are end of specification papers or are the ends of rolls of paper, excess caused as natural loss during the changeover from one completed reel to the next.

**Paper, a combination of natural fibres and man-made chemicals, is one of our oldest functional products, essential even now for communication, and as such it exemplifies the age-old need to exchange ideas and goods whilst also showing man's ingenuity in transforming materials from one state into another.

These visual and audio "meditations" are universal whilst also being specific to the North West's growth and evolution. Given the history of trade and commerce which has been vital to the growth of Manchester, Liverpool and the other port towns and major conurbations of the North West, and indeed to the UK itself, a venue that has a direct and appropriate relationship to the area's trading past would be preferred. A custom house (whether in use or redundant), a redundant shipping works building or some other building that signifys, or signified,a dependence on access to the sea.

Objectives and potential

General goals of the installation are encapsulated within the proposal itself. Whilst the proposal alludes to both the generalities and the specifics of cultural evolution it also necessarily contains ideas and suggestions that relate to trade, economics, travel, matter, architecture, history, socio-political change, the environment, space and acoustics. It is hoped therefore that Relay will pose questions rather than provide answers and will in turn attract a wide audience which will cut across all barriers of religion, faith, gender, class and economics. Also given the diverse subjects that have inspired and informed the conception of Relay, the installation would offer various opportunities to formulate potential educational activities and workshops. Triggered by elements within the installation programmes of study might include aspects of re-cycling and sustainability, trade and cultural exchange, immigration and emigration, the slave trade, racial integration, the history of goods, cause and effect, etc., as well as providing a platform for the study of the more aesethetic concerns posited within the installation such as sound, architecture, space and perception.










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