Small Hills from Great Mountains Descend

performance without audience, and later, evidence

“small hills from great mountains descend” – an installation that seemed permanently under construction, which documents its own process of de-construction in terms of its body and hidden sonic accompaniment. A “mess with the sound of its own making”. Sonic history of a rolling stone."

​These four installed environments formed the exhibition Fish Poems, that I created at Galerie Titanik in Turku Finland July 29 – August 3.

A step behind the waterfall grants access to the alien birdbath. Being stung by two bees twice in two days is lucky if I say it is.

This exhibition simultaneously compresses large distances and magnifies small things. It takes some experiences out of time and expands others into a continuous now. I am attempting to understand some aspects of perception by replacing the perceived object with electronic simulacra, or by abstracting and modeling those perceived systems of events, and juxtaposing them into new configurations.

​See information on the Titanik gallery's website:

This is a short film that attempts to capture or re-create something of the feel of the four installations that were part of Jorge Boehringer's exhibition Fish Poems at the Titanik Gallery in Turku, Finland.

A long reflective text about each of these works and their context in the exhibition:

During the summer of 2014, just before the beginning of my official PhD research period began in Huddersfield, I had a solo gallery exhibition in Turku, Finland.[1] I presented four new installation works completed during a two-month residency in the period leading up to the opening of the show. In unique ways, each of the four artworks embodied a mapping of a phenomena from outside the exhibition space or time onto themselves. In retrospect, it is clear to me that these works well-summarized the state of my practice and the critical content of my concerns just prior to my move to the UK. Since my current research interests spring both out of and away from these works, I will introduce this commentary with a brief description of these four pieces, and some cursory reflection about the show as a whole.

​The first piece in the show was visible through floor to ceiling plate-glass windows running street and canal-side along the main exhibition space. On the window’s surface were a network of fine cables that connected into nodes around sensors of various kinds. Behind this, across the floor of the space and stretching far back was another network – this time composed of small piles of stones- “islands” linked together with black gaffer tape. Opening the door and walking into this space, a wash of sound surrounded one’s head. The sound came concealed speakers behind ceiling tiles and from the small stone islands themselves, some of which had tiny LED “lighthouses” affixed to them, whose beams seemed to echo the islands’ irregular positioning on the tile gallery floor with their own irregular rhythmic behaviour. The tile floor itself reflected and filtered both sound and light, creating an atmosphere that was at once soothing and somewhat dizzying. The piece was called Archipelago, and the aim was to suggest an anthropomorphism of the Aland Islands that form the archipelago between Turku and Sweden. I wanted to give myself and visitors a sense of what it would feel like to be these islands by projecting sensor-controlled densities of synthesized sound representing coastal weather conditions, seabirds, and insects as spatialized sound behaviours. A visitor at different times and on different days or nights would have found different sound and light behaviours. In fact, multiple systems for sensing environmental conditions, and for generating sound and light where present in the room. It is perhaps due to the fact though they shared a common environment, as well as a common vocabulary of responses, that the elements of the installation blended so easily together into a single perceptual whole. It was, nevertheless, a whole made of many independent parts.

Occasionally, a loud clamour interrupted the coastal atmosphere of archipelago. A small portal covered by a shabby black curtained in a rear corner of the space was the source of this sound. Lifting the curtain, one encountered an irregularly lit room, which may at first have appeared to be a storage space for the gallery. Stacked and overturned chairs and tables filled the darkness around the edges of the space, and the room had a dusty odour. The source of light could be made out to be an old CRT monitor facing a back corner of the room, curiously flickering, obviously displaying something that couldn’t be made out from the doorway.

Upon entering the room to reach the monitor in the back corner, the curtain would fall and the darkness increase. Further, the way was obstructed by a heavy plank of wood forming a kind of ramp between a tall gallery podium and floor. Both the ramp and podium where dusty and the ramp and floor were deeply scratched and pockmarked. The sound, which had been the initial attraction to explore this dank space, but had now very likely been forgotten, could return at any moment during this process, otherwise the room was quiet with the sounds of archipelago next door filtering in. The sound would return though, and when it did- at odd and intermittent intervals – it was very loud and moved like a load of tumbling bolders (like those making up the islands in the installation next door) spatialized from hidden speakers such that they rocketed across the whole width of the small room, moving from one side of a visitor’s head to another. Could this sound be connected to the pockmarked appearance of the ramp and the dusty debris on it and the floor? Viewers who did not flee at this point generally made their way to the back of the room to investigate the CRT monitor from the screenside, to find that it held what appeared to be a CCTV image of the scene from where one had just come, just on the other side of the ramp, and inside of the door, where a small previously unnoticed camera occupied a corner. This strange and suggestively recursive situation was of course actually one of the installations, titled From Small Hills Great Mountains Descend.

​Leaving this paranoid space, a visitor would either make an immediate beeline for the exit out of the gallery towards blessed escape, or pass back through the first installation to enter the two remaining rooms beyond. Upon again passing through the filtered seaside noise of Archipelago, and passing through the curtain to the rear of the exhibition space a viewer would find themselves at first in total darkness. Upon acclimating, slightly, it would become clear that the situation was not one of total darkness, but rather that there was another, larger monitor, and something else in the back corner of the space in front of one. There was also a strong presence to one’s left, a muffled roar, and a sense of pressure. As one’s eyes acclimated further it would be clear that in fact to one’s left was another door, with something quite bright and loud on the other side of it. Most visitors put fear aside and entered the room. What they found there was indeed painful. Upon lifting the curtain an extremely bright light caught them straight in the eyes, and the sound was a very high-amplitude, tumble caused by layers of irregularly filtered white and pink noise. A turn of the head away from the blinding white light revealed that the source of the light was actually a projector, which, in addition to blinding viewers, also projected a huge image on the wall behind where one stood. In order to be able to see what it was, and escape the thunderingly harsh static blast that surrounded the doorway, people would generally enter the room, and finding the sound and light to immediately begin to de-intensify, come still further inside.

At the back of space, along a wall one found a humble but very comfortable wooden bench, as are found in Finnish saunas, much beloved of the locals. Having a seat on this bench offered rest and a chance to see the entire piece for the first time. The sound environment on the bench was actually rather calming, consisting of a lower volume diffusion of curtain of slowly but dynamically-filtered pink noise and sub-tones. Looking straight ahead, at the wall through which the space had been entered revealed a huge projected image of a waterfall. It seemed to be moving slightly too slow, but otherwise one sat there, behind the waterfall, and it was very seductive and hypnotic.

​Leaving this room, and Stairs the installation environment it contained, a visitor was again plunged into darkness, having passed again through the white noise curtain at the door, and back into the relative quiet of the dark room. The likely thing to do now was investigate the final piece, that odd monitor contraption in the corner….Moving to the back of the space, and sitting down in the desk chair in front of the screen that could now be seen to be held up by some old packing crates, one discovered some binoculars, a keyboard, magnifying glass, and headphones. There was a strong sense of being in a kind of makeshift security office that had recently been vacated. Yet rather than the street outside the gallery, or some other scene that might be expected in a security office, one instead found oneself looking at a screen that monitored the movements of bees in various places, also the movements of some trees, tall dry grasses, a dusty path… all shot from static camera positions. This was B Movie: Habitat Observation Platform, and it purported to display families of bees in their natural habitat, or simply the habitats. The archaic keyboard could be used to switch between views of different habitats, and if a visitor put the on headphones on a swarming, swirling mass of bee life was heard, all synthetic however, as all other sound in the exhibition.

Some Reflections

Not only was all of the sound contained in the exhibition synthetic, but also most aspects of the “embodied mapping of phenomena from outside the exhibition”[2] onto or within the pieces themselves was largely fictitious, and this fiction was discoverable by the audience. Although the pieces exuded a great deal of their own presence, and existed in their own right as phenomena, the suggested relation to anything outside of themselves quickly collapsed under the slightest inquiry. This was done purposefully, as it was one of my main intentions in this show as a whole to test the idea that the uneasy feeling created by all this would lead to greater audience engagement, as well as interesting conversation. In practice, it worked pretty well.

Each of the works in its own way physically questioned its own ontological materiality. Such aspects of de-materiality, of letting the framework of the artifice be visible, “lifted the veil” for the audience, turning them, on another order of structural interaction[3] into participants. By nature of the fact that I undermined the illusionality of my pieces or allowed them to undermine their own representational program through a ‘lifting-of-the-veil’ audience members – participants, as I refer to them- came to examine the nature of their own interaction with the artworks, and their own assumptions and expectations along with them.[4] What each work uniquely “mapped” was less a phenomena from outside the gallery onto the situation of the exhibition, but rather a rendering of perceptual processes of a participant for a participant, through works in the the exhibition. The exhibition became a projection screen for one’s intuition.[5] An opportunity to see,[6] phenomenologically speaking.

At least, this is my reflexive interpretation. At the time of the show, I was quite focussed on surface-level less philosophical concerns such as getting the sensors and interactive elements to work properly and working on the sound design. The approach to digital representation of natural sounds had been a preoccupation of mine for some time. I had previously made several pieces for Cesky Rozhlas (Czech Radio)[7] using granular techniques to resynthesize environmental sounds. In this project, that the whole of the sound content was artificial, a façade was for me a connection to photorealism in painting, or the staged photos of Chris Forgotten or that other photographer who works with staged scenes depicting heighted reality. [8]

Before moving into a deeper discussion of my current work and its aesthetic and technical aims and development, I feel it significant to point out links between the work that formed that background of these installations in reference to the tradition of representation in the Visual Arts. I had read and studied the writings[9] and software instruments of sound designer Andy Farnell and was heavily influenced by his approach, basing my own tentative steps in Pure Data within his deeper, more confident footprints. I was inspired by the physicality and materiality of his approach: to synthesize bird song, for example, he studied, the syrinx and respitory system for the particular species of birds he aimed to imitate, and this physiological study informed his approach to signal flow within his patch.[10]

My own line of questioning has not continued in a representational arena. I soon realized that while imitating environmental sounds electronically is fascinating, it is not in fact central to the questions I am pursuing. The inspiration for the research, the experimental work, and the music that I have created since beginning my research in Huddersfield may be more accurately framed by quoting Allan Kaprow on Piet Mondrian in that

“…he was…interested in the work as a form of investigation of reality and a testing of reality at the same time….a kind of ontological tool; it wasn’t mere aesthetics.”[11]

What I intended to address in this show was a person’s relationship to the “real”. I intended to do this by constructing a framed set of models based on my own perception of my own sensations: my reality. This exercise in pure empiricism[12] was then extended as a painter who works representationally might work- through mechanisms of suggestion and illusion-from experience towards a re-synthesis or a kind of transcription of experience. Many questions and criticisms of ancient practice of painting representationally could be applied to this work. [13] In particular, the notion that a representation is both a representation of something else and a thing-in-itself begs further artistic embodiment. However, since beginning my Phd, my research has been much less representational in nature. Instead, I have been asking to what extent can an abstraction derived from one artists own experience have any appeal or application to the experience of another person?

In retrospect, the most important aspect of my installations in the show just is that the audience moved through them. While much installation work allows for movement of people around or within the pieces, these works required a particular, if subtle, engagement from the audience. They had to choose to lift the curtain, to enter a potentially dangerous space to investigate the source of illumination or sound, to walk through an intimidating sheet of white noise and directly into a painfully bright light to explore what was on the other side. The works required this level of engagement for the audience to find them in the first place, to see all the parts. Yet in doing so, a significant of time would have already been spent within the installation, significant because -as with one’s eyes upon entering a darkened space- the works required that the audience not only find, but to see (and hear) them, an acclimation. Acclimation requires not only a certain allowance for a temporal and perceptual adjustment, but also a commitment -if only a basic commitment to curiosity- on the part of an audience member. They had to listen and look actively in order see or hear what was happening. These works thus in some way frame or contain processes of attention. A further curiosity as to what this would feel like in other listening environments-for example in regard to concert music- has been a key area of my research.

Experiences of a subjective nature tend to be difficult to discuss concretely. A lack of measurability, in the sense that quantitative data can be measured, leads to degrees of uncertainty which impinge on a the sense of understanding necessary for communication. Luckily, the arts offer many alternative models for experiment, presentation, and discussion. Despite a great appreciation for statistics, most of my research is of a qualitative nature, as the goal of a great deal of my work involves, to quote Richard Kostelanetz, again in reference to Mondrian “…an objective creation to induce a subjective experience”.[14] The works presented in my portfolio are a collection of efforts in this direction.