What leads one to a certain subject, I wonder.
I can, with all certainty tell you that about eighteen months ago I started developing ideas for this show. I knew that I wanted to make works which examined the electromagnetic spectrum in a few different ways, and I knew that I wanted to do this because for the last number of years I have been playing around with a seemingly disparate grouping of ideas and technologies which are loosely collated into that subject matter. This exhibition star-stuff is about waves: Waves and frequencies, light and sound, communication in its many and varied forms.
I think that as artists we are always searching for the reasons why, that or otherwise stating a because. I’m one of the first kind. Things interest me, and the more interesting they are the more hooked I am. I stumbled across British composer Daphne Oram and her wondrous machine after being given an old oscilloscope from a friend. I’d just finished an electrical course and apart from graphing electrical signals I wondered what else I could do with it. A few tangents later and I was looking at the most beautiful and ad hoc arrangement of homebrewed construction I’d ever seen. Everything that was used in that arrangement of technology was there to fulfill a function, and had little apparent aesthetic selectivity. You can sense the needfulness in the object for things to function just so.
There was only one Oramics machine ever made and that one ended up forgotten in someone’s shed after Ms Oram passed away. They showed it recently at the British science museum and I would have almost given a limb to see it in its decaying flesh. Alas all I can do is to try to offer up this homage to a technological relic. An architecture of machinery, an architecture of sound.
There’s this great term that pinball machine inventors used to use called White wood. It’s basically what they call the prototype they make to check the way a ball will travel around a set of problems. They work out all the engineering of the thing before they even think about the decorative graphic bits, and while I adore early pinball graphics from the 30’s and 40’s – their palette and graphic styles are exceptional examples of the artform – these machines stripped bare of all that – notated brusquely, patchy paint and full of holes, bits screwed in roughly – the focus is on the craft of the intent rather than any innate craftsmanship of the object.
I make white woods. This is a bit perverse I realise, considering that they are unable to function in the way they are intended to, but it is their intent which fascinates me, hopefully others.
I have long been attracted to the architecture of public space – particularly in public phone booths (an unfortunate dying breed) I never seem to notice them during the day, but late at night, glowing into the dark streets they come alive; much like a sudden unexpected silence amongst the daily noise. Things used to be quieter, I know it. This is not some sentimental nostalgia, although there is a part of me which cries out for some time-out.
When I was younger I would occasionally duck into one and dial 1194. This was before mobile phones and I was useless at wearing a watch but mainly I loved the break – to stand (exposed and yet not exposed) under their bright light and stare out into the darkness with a voice counting out minutes, hours and seconds. We don’t do that anymore; we have time and the source of all knowledge stuffed into pockets and bags. We’ve forgotten the joy of inaccessibility and stillness, I think and I’m not sure it’s something worth losing.
It was Carl Sagan who first said ‘We are made of star-stuff.’ It’s the same thing – there’s the communication and the connectivity but there’s a longing to it – for that kind of solitude. I miss the thought of people working late into the night struggling with problems, unable to turn to google to check out a detail or procrastinate with trolls on social media; contemplating instead the darkness and the silence, looking at bigger pictures, imagining things into existence that have never been conceived before, contemplating constellations.