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Your Footprints Precede You

standard moss shoe, audiotext, psycho-botanically rendered recordings

Your Footprints Precede You began as a found object, “ready-made” as a partially moss-covered leather shoe, in a small wood close to where I lived in Marsh, Huddersfield, UK. As in other works made in collaboration with mosses, part of my intention was to bring visitors into more intimate contact with the bryophytes. In this case this would usually take the form of a small amount of sound being projected from within the piece, encouraging visitors to lean down and into the work in order to hear and thereby also smell it. In this way, the piece is also visually experienced at different scales.

Your Footprints Precede You (2018)

(standard mossshoe, audiotext, psychobotanical recording)

This work celebrated the fascination I have for mosses, present in several of my works including a piece of mail art made for Vicky Langhan in 2010 and the more recent Order in Nature: What the Moss Heard () link. This work began with the finding of a partially moss-covered shoe in a wood close to where Eleanor Cully and I lived at that time, in between the Marsh and Paddock districts of Huddersfield. Interestingly, I discovered that this field has fortunately never been “developed” and is visible with more or less similar boundaries on all Ordinance Survey maps that I could find (many of which can be perused in the Scottish National Library…Link). This field connects to the present location of the exhibition space 21 Market Place along a straight line, and while caring for and encouraging the mossy growth upon this shoe over the course of several years and three changes of house, I soon realized conceptual linkage between the two locations that consisted of a straight line in time as well as space.

Further research revealed several instances of the traceries of early humans in the form of footprints that can be found throughout the UK. I began to imagine what the relationship between these early people and the soft moss they trod underfoot was, and how it might be both similar and different than the relation that people have to mosses here and now. This research brought me to look into the history of the building we were exhibiting in, at 21 Market Place in Huddersfield and the adjacent Market Cross and square, which has stood in that location for several hundred years.

Consideration of the mosses identity as both individual and collective organism’s in view of how human culture is conceptualized both colloquially and within academia led me to develop a “mosses view” on the matter, and I expressed this in the soundtrack to this piece, best heard by applying ones ear to the shoe itself to hear the whispering words and sounds of the mosses the vibrate up through each moist stalk and sporophyte. Thus the moss speak of many things in this piece but particularly of the history of the place that is 21 Market Place, a speculative present: now, as in the speculative past.

The exhibition space was 21 Market Place, a former jewellery shop that was occupied by the Making Space, a local arts and crafts collective and creative initiative.

21 Market Place had by this point been in continuous use over a period of 2 years or so, and had provided a publicly-accessible base for workshops, film screenings, and concerts of experimental music (co-produced by the Making Space and local groups AME and New Weird Huddersfield), as well as studio space for Making Space artists. Before the opening of Space as an Instrument, the Making Space was notified that they would be evicted on the 21st of that month by the management of the adjacent shopping mall and local arts advocacy organization East St Arts.

This impending eviction lent an ironic tone to the exhibition as the initial theme of the planned event was “architecture as instrument”, and the show was intended to be a sounding of, or sonic exploration and mapping of, or sonic response to this building. Artists in the show interpreted this in various ways, David Velez recording the sounds of the building, for example, and collecting them for broadcast in a dark basement space, with the sounds creeping out, emanating from the metallic wall on one side of the room. Meanwhile, Ryoko Akama gathered various bits of material from around the space and assembled them into a lyrical kinetic sculpture that repurposed an overhead projector and fan along with a brass tube left behind from a recent performance upstairs by Boris Bezemer. Akama’s piece used small DC motors to activate movement among pieces of wire and cardboard creating a counterpoint to the strong electrical hum that perennially filled her chosen basement exhibition space, a stooped and cramped room whose ceiling was steadily graded and proved dangerous for anyone over 6 ft to stand inside. Bathed in room hum, the sound of the spinning fan and one of the motors repeatedly striking the brass pipe with an attached wire, listeners where confronted with a continuous but also continuously varied cloud of sound. At the same time, the room regularly cycled through periods of light and darkness as the second small motor alternately interrupted and revealed the beam of light from the projector, in the manner of an endless eclipse.

My own response to this space, chose to view it from a multiplicity of perspectives. Rather than a single objective reading, I sought to create an installation that addressed 21 Market Place as a place, and a place that has changed its identity not only in space but in time.

Therefore, I assembled the three works together with certain bits of connective material present, in, for example, the design and layout of the title cards and in the extra and excessive information furnished on these cards. The audio tracks broadcast by and through each of these pieces also created strong links between the three otherwise discrete works. I intended the three pieces to be read together as a stratified, yet non-hierarchical, pile of information. The experience of the works would be thus constituted by participating visitors by their own navigations through this material and the comparisons they made for themselves between the pieces.

Obviously, in another context these works might be shown separately and aspects of them might be changed. As two of the works consist of living plant material, they will likely have changed form by the time they are next exhibited. Sound tracks may also be altered, as in fact they were in the case of this exhibition, due to mechanical and spatial constraints. That is just how it goes.

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