Magnetic North: Wow & Flutter

Andrew Clifford’s “Magnetic North” essay, on my installation Popular Archeology, is now online. The installation was the first show in the Letting Space series curated by Sophie Jerram and Mark Amery.  Andrew’s essay nicely situates the installation in the context of a bunch of other media-obsessed and medial projects, articulates its relationship to popular culture (long live the mixtape), and links it to a much longer tradition – vanitas and the ars morendi. Oddly, I hadn’t though of making this link, but it of course makes perfect sense and reminds me that I was once told by Miriama Young that the word cassette derives from the French “casse” or “caisse” meaning “casket” (among other things).

Andrew’s descriptions of the installation are rich and apt. Here’s one of my favourite passages: “Repeated listening to any fragment only makes it stranger, like trying to identify a mumbled word on a recording, or reciting a phrase until it becomes meaningless.” This suggests a link to the Formalists, perhaps making the installation a Shklovskian gesture for the 21stC: “The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar,’ to make focus difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged.” (“Art as Technique”, 1917).

The essay also features some wonderful photos of the installation taken by Boofa (thanks again!).


This is something I wrote, an aeon ago, for/about the Gastarbyter installation, created in collaboration with London Fieldworks and commissioned by the ICA (London) back in 1998. It was written in a fairly uninformed way, perhaps even naïvely, but connects closely with the reading I’ve been doing recently (Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Guattari even) which should result in some writing sometime soon…

Ours is a culture which encourages us only to watch and not to listen or feel, nor to analyse how sight, sound and touch infiltrate each other. It is a culture whose excess of ‘noise’ requires that we severely filter what we are capable of perceiving. Against this then, Gastarbyter is an experiential pocket, a hortus sensorium, which encourages the formation of connections between channels of perception, the engagement of close perception skills, a movement into the interior of sound, light and tactility. From a sensory perspective Gastarbyter represents a movement away from the dominance of the visual in Western culture. There is no primacy of the eye within this environment but nor is there a primacy of the ear or body. Instead there is the tactile, the audible, the visual, in symbiosis. Symbiosis being a leakage between what are normally regarded as discrete elements. In creating sound for the installation the central concern is therefore the exploration of this process of contamination and projection. An object is never the same after we have touched it. A sound is radically changed if it is also felt on the skin. The quality of a light source will mutate depending on the irradiation it receives from a sound skittering between different states. Given the above, music is anathema to Gastarbyter. Music has no place in an environment which constantly calls attention to a multiplicity of perceptual modes. It is too much a cultural object, something into which we slip and lose ourselves. Instead there is Klangkunst [sound-art] – the laying bare of the interior of sound itself – in which much of what characterises music (harmony, melody, rhythm) has been stripped away. Discrete time (based on pulse) and discrete pitch (the 12 chromatic pitches) return only as marker points in a play upon basic cognitive processes: the detection of change and the denial or fulfillment of this expectation. This is the closest Klangkunst comes to being music.

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Gastarbyter by Dugal McKinnon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.