Writings and Proposal
Salve (working title only)
Draft outline, originally proposed for a multimedia installation
for the transition art programme of commissions for the Victoria
Baths, Manchester, in 2003 by Russell Mills and Ian Walton;
Either the Male First Class/Gala Pool or the Ladies Pool.
Within the pool, along its length, are two rows of
old metal hospital beds, say seven to ten in each row, arranged
to resemble a hospital ward, with each row mirroring the other*.
On each, instead of a conventional mattress, is a metal plate
of iron or steel. Beneath each is a gas cylinder connected
to a burner facing upwards, which continually heats the metal
plate. Above each line of beds, paradoxically, is a water
sprinkler system. Periodically, either at long random intervals
or at programmed times during each day throughout the installation's
duration, the sprinkler system is temporarily activated, releasing
sprays of water droplets to fall and unexpectedly explode
on the heated metal plates.
Microphones suspended from above would relay these quiet
explosions and the ambient sounds from the pool to a Mac laptop
carrying the Logic Audio sound programme, which is pre-set
to apply in real time, certain extreme transformative effects,
such as reverb, time stretching, panning, echo and delay.
The resulting magnified and transformed sounds would then
be sent to pairs of stereo speakers located throughout the
venue to playback into the space. In addition we would hope
to access the oral history archive to select specific personal
anecdotal reminiscences of people's experiences in the Baths.
Set to a low volume level, these personal narratives would
be sent to small loudspeakers suspended in a number of the
changing cubicles surrounding the pool. Collectively these
monologues would create a barely audible, ever-changing collage
of voices within the pool area, whilst within the intimacy
of the separate cubicles, unique stories would be experienced
by individual visitors in isolation. The resulting ceaselessly
changing, enveloping sound work would be a central and essential
element of the installation, rather than a mere background
The introduction of olfactory stimuli in the form of discreetly
placed tea candle burners activating various essences / vapourising
oils, such as Camphor, Cypress and Eucalyptus (triggering
associations of hospitals and healing), is also being considered.
The installation Salve is concerned with cycles of transformation.
Heat from the flame (from below Earth's mantle) warms matter
- the metal plate (made from Earth's ceaseless chemistry),
which in turn is activated into response by falling droplets
of water (rain from the heavens). Regeneration and re-birth
is exemplified when water meets hot metal. The moment of conception,
the speculative possible triggering life into the actual,
the real, is further displayed as vapour or steam rises signifying
the spiritual journey between the earth and the heavens.
Notions of healing, memory and transformation are the central
ideas underpinning this proposal and yet we hope that if realised,
Salve may be interpreted on many levels and appeal to a wide
audience, from local residents and supporters of the regeneration
programme to visitors from further afield. Reflecting on and
referencing the local, the historical, social and cultural
importance of the Victoria Baths, we would hope to produce
a work that also has a universality. Ultimately we envisage
the work as being an immersive (no pun intended), mesmeric
environmental work, emblematic of the potential of transformation
and of the current regeneration programme at the Baths in
particular and in Manchester generally. Located in an area
with a history of social deprivation and in close proximity
to hospitals and the universities, the Victoria Baths offers
a significant opportunity to produce a work that would pose
a number of socio-political questions in an elegiac yet celebratory
and aspirational way. Utilising materials that are imbued
with myriad symbolic associations, we would strive to create
a necessarily atmospheric and contextually anchored installation,
which we hope would be an emotionally engaging piece capable
of evoking strong resonances and correspondences to the people
and the place that is Manchester. Through such a work we would
also seek to encourage and engender a renewed sense of pride
in the local inhabitants and others, not only in the uniqueness
of the Victoria Baths but in the cultural evolution of Manchester
and the whole of the Northwest region.
*The number of beds would be determined by the size of the
pool and the availability of the specific type of hospital
beds that we have in mind.
Salve: - healing ointment for sores or wounds; thing that
is soothing for wounded feelings or uneasy conscience or explains
away discrepancy or palliates fault; anoint (wound, etc.);
smooth over or make good (defect, disgrace, etc.); soothe
(pride, self-love, conscience, etc.; account for, dispose
of, harmonise, vindicate, (difficulty, doubt, discrepancy,
Salve: - save (ship, cargo) from loss at sea, save (property)
from fire; hence -ABLE, salvage.
Metals: - in this instance the use of iron or steel plates
has a direct correspondence with Manchester's evolution and
its maritime history, the whole region having been shaped
by a reliance on the sea. Metals can also have other associations,
metaphoric and symbolic. The symbolism of the conscious human
spirit working (and reworking) upon inanimate matter. The
working of metals has since ancient times, been associated
with the realm of the gods, through the fire gods, and the
men of spiritual power who in the case of the Shamans, for
example, were originally the blacksmiths. Metals naturally
lend themselves as symbols of processes in the soul. We still
talk of a person's 'metal', i.e. his or her fibre. Base metals
are also representative of the sensuous world of unregenerate
Bed(s): - in this context and given their proposed layout,
they allude to hospital wards, physical and psychological
sicknesses and healing. Suggestive of sleep, a bed is also
home to our unconscious attitudes or content, where dreams
and nightmares are freed. Beds are our beginning and our end.
Fire: - amongst many possible meanings it represents transformation
and purification; it is life giving and suggests the generative
power of the sun and the renewal of life. It also signifies
a change or passage from one state to another and is a medium
for conveying messages or offerings heavenward. It is also
symbolic of impregnation, physical and sexual power, strength,
the unseen energy in existence, fusion, defence, passion,
protection, visibility, destruction and immolation.
Flame: - Ambivalent as both divine and demonic, the flame
represents spiritual power and forces, transcendence and illumination,
manifestation of the soul and the pneuma - the breath of life.
Fire and water together represent two great principles - the
active and the passive and as light and heat are necessary
for all life. Light and heat also symbolises respectively,
the intellect and the emotion.