Gasworks is a consistently interesting UK gallery and set of studio spaces, located directly behind the Oval cricket ground in London. The space sports an unassuming frontage which gives little away about the quality of the work that lies beyond. Although small, the gallery is usually filled with what I think are the some of the most interesting and diverse shows in London.
As well as this exhibition space, the building holds a set of three small studios, to which artists from around the world are invited for three month stints, and this weekend saw them thrown open to public view.
It’s a shame then that the audience was fairly sparse – when I visited on Friday afternoon I was one of only two other people taking advantage of the opportunity to see the work the artists have been doing whilst resident in London. I shouldn’t complain of course, a low attendance means that we could easily identify and talk to the artists. But then, again disappointingly, two out of the three studio artists weren’t present when we visited, meaning that the one artist who was there (Allard van Hoorn) kindly took on the task of explaining two sets of work to us – his and his neighbour’s (Marco Lampis), leaving the work of the third artist (whose studio was downstairs) without explanation. These works by Katarina Šević, were presented somewhat in a vacuum with no explanation or background material (and one of the monitors wasn’t working), which would have greatly helped our appreciation of the work.
So I only feel I can comment on van Hoorn’s work as we were able to have a long conversation with him. He was very friendly and articulate about his work (and that of his absent neighbour). From our conversation I learned that, simply put, he works with locations to produce the raw materials, photographs, drawings, sounds, which he then synthesises and sends back out into the world to live on in different forms and spark new developments.
For his residency he has been working on three new pieces in his series “Urban Songlines” which he describes as drawn from “tonal topographies from existing spaces and structures within the local area.” As the name suggests, these are drawn from the Australian aboriginal sense of the recording the landscape and routes through song. van Hoorn’s work applies these methods to specific locations in London, working with the place and the local sounds to create object events. The sites van Hoorn has chosen include the Thames Barrier, Battersea Power Station and the gasometers behind the Gallery and which he sees from the window of the studios.
The first two pieces, of the Barrier and the Power Station, take the form of large format photographs of the sites from which their sounds were collected, these sounds then being formed into sound works. The piece from the Thames Barrier was the most advanced of the works on show, in this case the data for the sound work had been saved to a custom made silver USB stick, shaped like a key and engraved with the latitude and longitude of that particular location. This rather beautiful object was presented in an air-tight glass jar on a small shelf next to the photograph. Once the residency ends, the jar will be thrown into the waters of the Thames at the same site where the sounds were recorded.
In what for me was the weakest proposal and image, the project planned for Battersea Power Station gathers its data from weather balloons attached to each chimney (the photo-montage to illustrate this looked rather clumsy and didn’t really do the work justice). The data collected is expected to cover not just sounds, but other environmental information as well. All this data would again go towards making a new sound work which I believe would then be re-performed at the site. I don’t remember what the artist said would be the end result of this piece, but I expect that, in the same way that the key has been produced for the Thames Barrier piece, there will be some way of projecting the Battersea piece into a future life, beyond the site of performance, but offering the possibility of linking back to it for the future audience (possibly “by googling” according to the artist).
The third work, based on the large iron gasometers visible from outside the studio window (and from which the gallery gets it’s name), takes the form of a series of prints and an animation/sound work. van Hoorn, during his stay in this room has witnessed the process of the gasometer’s daily inflation and deflation as gas for the local area is pumped in and held under pressure by the weight of the structure. The artist reads this movement in and out of the gas as akin to breathing and this becomes the source for what he calls his “score” – a series of drawings of the various states of the structure, from which a sound work (which incorporates breath-like sounds) has been interpreted to accompany the animation of the score.
All the works on display in the Urban Songlines series never really have a point at which they are complete, they are initiated by the artist and then take on a life of their own once released by the artist. This is most clearly demonstrated by the USB “key” which floats away out of reach of the artist, to be picked up someone out there who may be able to interpret the object in some way which may or may not lead back to the artist.
In a way this piece is a lure, by design it draws the eventual recipient back into the art context. This idea fits nicely with the use of the river in the two pieces as a method of adding uncertainty to the process of the works’ development. van Hoorn himself compared the idea to that of the Voyager spacecraft which, in addition to its scientific payload, carries a plaque with information addressed to an alien audience, attempting to explain who, where and what the creators of this object are.
Within the works themselves, an object like the USB key sits in an uncomfortable relationship of mediation between the sound works as ephemeral things and the urge to survive, to keep the record somehow of the sounds. Working with sound and music holds this relationship, between a temporary performance—a one time only result—and it’s life before and after the performance. The scores that van Hoorn has produced for the gasometer piece reflect this interplay between the needs of the two stages: the music needs performance, the scores need to record and prepare for and allow for a future for the sound piece. The key is another method of recording and providing the possibility of a future realisation of the work.
The movement from inspiration, through the various stages and forms of an artwork raises questions about the necessity and value of these stages and forms. For an artist all the stages they realise are assumed to be necessary to the work, but are these purely internal needs, are they necessary to the reception? As soon as you involve or attempt to directly connect with an audience many other concerns affect the work and its value.
In the second part of this post I’ll follow some of my own thoughts about the necessity of object making in art.