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; not realised.

Location
Either the Male First Class/Gala Pool or the Ladies Pool.

The installation
W
ithin 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 sonic tint.

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.

Glosses

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, person's honour).
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 man.

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.

 

 

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