In March 2020 London, along with the rest of the UK, went into its first lockdown, to try and stop the COVID-19 pandemic from spreading. My work at the time was mainly focused on live art/performance, an important component being the physical presence/body of both the performer and the audience member within the performance space… not ideal for a pandemic, where social distancing is a key to daily life.
Even though I have the basic knowledge to edit my website (just about!) and appreciate digital art, I always felt this was an area I knew very little about, and so never thought digital art, or online art, was something I would consider creating.
I could, of course, used the time of the pandemic to work on and plan for future work alongside working and finishing my PhD thesis. But I felt like I wanted to react to what was happening and being able to adapt to new circumstances as an artist (and human) is always a good skill to develop.
"I wanted to react to what was happening and being able to adapt to new circumstances as an artist (and human) is always a good skill to develop."
To some extent I think the situation also took away the fear of the work being crap – technically and/or otherwise. Suddenly, the digital space where all there was, so it felt ok I knew nothing about how to make work for it - I had no other choice but to try and learn. Over the course of 2020 and the first few months of 2021, I created several small projects, all to some extent for the ‘digital space’. I will discuss them all briefly below.
‘Aural Conjuring’ was the first ‘lockdown’ project I created. Contained in my house, I thought of listening as a way of reaching out – towards what I missed, what I hoped for, what I feared. I created 3 performance pieces, taking the form of a short ritual, which I filmed myself performing. In it, I use a tarot deck, where I draw 3 random cards. I am blindfolded during the performance and listening to each card. I then use automatic writing to record what goes through my mind after listening to each card. At the end I document the cards drawn and provide short descriptions of how to interpret them within the context of the Tarot deck. I find the idea of listening as something which is us reaching out as much as sound ‘reaching in’ really interesting, and this work gave me the chance to explore this idea in quite a playful context. I had though of this before, as In listening being a reaching out towards people or the environment. The setting of this performance as being a ritual introduced the idea of listening as a reaching out towards more abstract things, like the future. This is something I would love to explore further. I also like how the ritual/performance is quite flexible and easy to perform pretty much anywhere, and how I am able to adapt it to different topics. I came up with the idea and realised it quite quick – I didn’t think too much about it - it reminded me o the value of just testing out your ideas, even if they are not entirely clear to you yet. It might not be perfect, but something interesting will probably come out of it.
" I thought of listening as a way of reaching out – towards what I missed, what I hoped for, what I feared."
This piece was based on my 121 performance piece ‘Sonic Confessions’. In it, I embody a character called the Auralia Hum, the Sound Doctor. The audience comes to see her/me to get help with their (dangerous?) inner sound experiences. Physical presence and proximity are important in this piece, so to create something online for this performance is really difficult.
But what would all the people in need of the Sound Doctor do in lockdown? They would, of course, go online for their sessions! With this in mind, I wanted to try and create an online ‘session’ from the sound doctor, which would still retain some of the awkwardness of an actual visit to her. I also wanted to try and incorporate the ‘prescription’ all participants would be given at the end of their visit, which I did by making it downloadable. I still think the original performance works best ‘in the flesh’ – however, trying to create an online version has made me think a lot about how to work on making these kind of 121 performance ideas accessible through a digital medium – be that on a website or through a video calling app – this is something I am excited to explore in the future.
This is, technically, not a lockdown project. It is something that had been at the back of my mind for some time, but which I never really got working on properly. For a while I had been doing these ‘inner listening’ exercises which I had really enjoyed. I had thought for a while that I should find a way to formalise and share them. Lockdown gave me the final inspiration to get on with it. I created an instruction/score for this particular inner listening exercise, which you are now able to download on my website. I also created a composition inspired by the inner sounds I had experienced the last time I completed it. I have not had the chance to compose much lately, so I found it really enjoyable to have a reason to do that!
"For a while I had been doing these ‘inner listening’ exercises which I had really enjoyed. "
This was a project created for the Online Performance Festival (lovely experience to be involve in, as a side note). The inspiration came from a Zoom workshop (where else!) - the facilitator was the only person with the mic on, and apart from her speaking, I also heard some lovely bird song come through. This made me think about how not only where we in the presenter’s home – at least in the small part of it she let us see – but she, and the sound of birdsong, where in OUR home as well – and there was much less control over the sound- both from the presenter’s side and ours. ‘Telesonic transmission’ was partly about inner listening, and partly inspired by the idea of television as a occult medium, which was believed by some during the early age of television. In this project, I built on ideas I have explored earlier, of a collective inner listening experience, and of how sound can cross the border between inside and outside, self and other, with ease. I extended this idea to imagine how sound can use the digital networks to travel between you and me, into homes and private spheres. This project I found very interesting – unlike the previous projects, which had dealt with the digital aspect as a restriction or necessity more than anything else – this particular project actually was about sound in the digital world. it started to scratch the surface of what sound could do in a digital world, and our new relationship to video calls and digital tools. It will be really intrsting to explore this further in the future.
This idea was thinking about our confined existence in our homes, and how I could create small moment of listening within this environment. I wrote a score anyone could use throughout the day, to find different spaces and sounds to listen to. I was very excited when it got published in Délicate Rebellions (un)influenced issue – which is why I cannot reproduce it here.
'Enclosed listening' follows along the same lines as the ‘Quarantine score’. I wanted to find a way to integrate listening into my days - even though I have now been in the same place for what feels like forever… I decided to spend a couple of minutes once or twice a day listening in different parts of the house. I had made a basic hand drawn map, and each day put tracing paper over it, coloured in where I had been listening and wrote down a very short description of what was heard. The sounds where both ‘outer’ and ‘inner’ sounds – I did not distinguish on my maps. Over the week, the tracing paper created a multi-layered listening map of the house. I photographed the maps and added the photographs to my website. I like the look of the different layers and will experiment some more in how to best display them. I also wanted to use them as starting points for other ideas.
"Having been put in this weird situation though, I was forced to step outside of my comfort zone, and there are some positives I can take from that."
Of course, I wish the pandemic never happened – or that our government handled it better (don’t get me started on that topic…!). Having been put in this weird situation though, I was forced to step outside of my comfort zone, and there are some positives I can take from that. Being restricted to the online/digital sphere and creating small low-key projects has thrown up a lot of interesting ideas I want to explore further. What does this digital 'new normal' mean? How does sound fit in? Can a new, digital way of connecting be more inclusive and generate interesting ideas for new performances?
I wanted to add a note here on expectations and productivity. It is very easy, with being furloughed, having extra time or being stuck at home, to feel the pressure to produce. Our value, however, is not tied to our productivity. We all deal with things differently, and in no way do I want to suggest that creating art is the best way to deal with this pandemic. It was helpful TO ME, but that does not mean other ways of coping/surviving is less legitimate.
Look after yourself! Things can, and will, change.