change the room, change the culture

Early start at gallery – 8am. Clean up job and set up all remaining PA and get sound levels right from the computer. Trial run with the 30 mins looped audio using Ableton on the downstairs gallery computer – new programme for me, meaning a few teething problems with the actual looping action. But, all speakers are connected to the right tracks.

Video is uploaded but has other teething problems with looping action too. Researching into it most of day, to understand why it isn’t looping.

It’s gone public! And a few people come through the doors. There’s a sign in the front of the door which asks people to respond to the room by listening to the heads, as well as come over to chat with me. I explain my call-out request which is to ask people if they have any response to the context of celebrating/recognising women in various workplaces, homes, family and friend situations – someone they know (present and past) who they would like to remember there in the gallery, to promote a new memory of space and place with this person. I am actually surprised at how many people are willing to come forward and chat to me about people around them. The chats are visceral, and the memories are current. There are some who would prefer not to be recorded (audio) but willing to chat with me about this person they chose. Bear in mind, i also ask them that it could also be themselves, and this brings up complex textures of issues and emotions.

My first recorded audio comes from two young people called Jesal Katak and Ciara Diana McKenzie. They are full of enthusiasm and told me they really enjoyed listening and watching the visuals. I told them to have a think about who they want to talk about and to come back in a while so I can set up my equipment and find a place to record them well. The gallery is in full swing, it’s a popular place and their cafe has great staff and great chefs making great food – the place is mobbed. There is a room below the cafe but this is far too noisy to record voices, so we go to corners of gallery rooms where they may be quieter moments. Still no success. We finally manage to climb up some stairs to an empty room where it was perfect and I recorded them there. They were both candid and wonderful in their celebration of their chosen person and it made me feel that this context – of asking people to actively think about someone dear – works in finding threads of new memories. i say new memories because the act of recalling and describing someone in a context of this project (and place) allows them to layer on top a new moment in time. This is exactly what I wanted to happen, to weave human connections into the audio piece in the Piper room.

I am aware that while I am away recording people, I have to have a gallery assistant in the room to help me let me know if some technical issue or anything else happens. I am introduced to them all and I find them all really amazing people. Some of them have been working in galleries as assistants for 30+ years. They are all different ages, with different backgrounds but all connected to the love of art.

I meet my next participant called Phil Cope. He’s wonderful, and talks about his work in his home town, and the art that surrounds him. Lots of stories! The visuals when they came on, gave him a moment of response which led us to record his story of his mother. What I became aware of then, was that the gestural quality in the video itself became very hypnotic to people and many came to watch for a few moments. Some were curious and asked me what was the set up, and some just took their time in the room, watching and listening.

The video describes a person’s movements (very slow but in real-time). There is no facial definition of the person which allows the watcher to imagine who this person could be. Sometimes it allows people to place their own connection onto it. In the context of this project, I wanted it to provide a space for people to imagine. For people to understand that behind the person that they see, perhaps they don’t know their histories, or their lives. There are no stereotypes, and no one kind of description. The act of placing their own memories onto this faceless person, allows this person to come alive. A new connection made. It can be seen as a very political situation, especially in the current times, and I wanted to let people see that. The title I gave the video was “This is your Public Space – occupy me

The word ‘Occupy’ is loaded as a word, but interesting to use in an art gallery. The room is your public space, and you as the public have the power to change what happens in it. I wanted people to come sit there, and hang out, and do what they wanted to do.

I’ve recently read Peter Block’s book on Civic Engagement and the Restoration of Community – changing the nature of the conversation, and this resonates what I was trying to do:

“The strategy is if you can change the room, you have changed the culture, at least for that moment. We change the room by changing the conversation. Not just any new conversation, but one that creates a communal accountability and commitment.” pg.13

He goes on to say:

“The room is a metaphor for the whole community, physically and psychologically. The room is the visible expression of the kind of learning and community we plan to create. This is what is meant by change the room, change the culture”
“Rooms are traditionally designed to support patriarchal experiences. We may not have control over the form and shape of the room but we always have choices as to the nature of our occupation of the room. So the task is to design the room to meet our intentions to build accountability and commitment.” pg.22

At the end of the day, I realise that when the gallery has closed, I finally get the time to tweak sounds and volumes, and to start editing the recorded voices in preparation for placing them into the 30 min looped audio for the next day. I find that in my eagerness to record the first two people, I only recorded Jesal and not Ciara. Gutted. Soundbites that are lost forever are truly heart-wrenching. But I have Phil’s so i have at least two that I can add to the mix.

Feedback on sounds in the room: when people are walking around, whispering, talking, they inevitably make creaks, noises and resonances that take away from the focus of listening to the heads, and the room itself. I wanted to keep the sound levels down so that people could direct their listening in an active manner. Unfortunately I calculated it to be too quiet for the room, and all levels must now be louder, and some frequencies have to be subtly taken back in the mix.