Express Train to Victoria 23/10/10
Next stop East Croydon
What do I hear?
The marshy squelching of chewing gum between my left side molars and then transferred with an additional swallowing noise, to the right side. As I chew the gum, after its transference across my wet tongue, the sound changes, more liquid sounding, slight squeaking noises as some of the saliva is swallowed. Ears pop, a dull thud, the sound changes again but remains like the sound of walking though a peat bog, I think of Raasay.
My back against the woven fabric of the seat, cotton jersey catching raised weave, a muted brushing sound, a stroke made audible. I breathe in and sigh, involuntarily, the sound catching my attention unexpectedly. Then, deliberately rubbing the back of my head against the headrest, I listen for the sounds of individual hairs, an almost imperceptible crackle, a self made cloak of static.
Itch, scratch, the sharp edge of a cuticle snags my eyelid. Can I hear it? I know it is not silent, I can feel the sound but can I hear it?
More chewing, I indulge the wet squelch, knowing that I am not disturbing the headphoned occupant of the seat across the aisle.
Leather soled shoe on metal footplate, a gentle sound set to the background rumble of the moving train. I focus on this now. It’s not the sound of the night train, not the rhythmic clunk of the trains of my childhood. This electric train with sealed windows encased in plastic metal and glass, crosses an intersection and the diamond shapes in the tracks make themselves heard.
Tunnel, my ears fill with air and then pop as I swallow on exiting. Over the M25, and a sense of the noise of a road. Another tunnel, another change in pressure, the sound of air being squeezed through a dark tube. We emerge into a cutting. The train has a lower pitch here, held in a valley of noise. Travelling through open spaces sounds different, more open, lighter. I’m noticing these differences, raising my awareness of the aural though the use of visual cues.
A train passes, travelling south how do I describe this sound? It’s not a boom or a woosh and rumble it’s the sound of velocity amplified.
Approaching Haywards Heath, no change in our speed and no change in the interior sounds of the carriage, we pass by the platforms casting thunder through the station.
Now shifting my attention to the sounds around me in the carriage, the crinkling of a good quality map unfolded and refolded. Near by conversation, her voice with an Irish accent, his local, deeper. A sigh from the person in the seat behind. The sound of a zip, a plastic package of some sort, thin plastic, like a sweet wrapper.
Ding dong, a pre-recorded female voice announces East Croydon. A paper bag. The sounds of a person rising from the seat behind me and gathering their journey debris. The noise of packaging.
Train slowing, breaking, a slight wheeze and a gentle stop. Doors open, cool air and exterior sounds enter the compartment. East Croydon, this is East Croydon, a whistle blows the doors close again and the external sounds are sealed off.
A conversation starts up further away. A phone call. A new passenger in the seat behind, a man clearing his throat, a deep soft sound. More trains passing, crossing over lines the expected chugging sound of wheels on tracks, the desired (and until this point lacking) sense of rhythmic motion told in noise. I hear a plastic ticking, a seat juddering with the motion of the train. The man behind clears his throat again near to my right ear. He shifts his body, quietly.
James Turrell, Gagosian Gallery until 10th December 2010
James Turrell is an extraordinary artist whose work takes us beyond the everyday scale of human existence, reminding us of infinity in the universe beyond the boundaries of our bodies and of the sense of the infinite we can discover within ourselves.
This exhibition points to both. The gallery space is divided into three rooms. In the first there are photographs, plans and models of the legendary Roden Crater, Turrell’s 30 year and ongoing project to build a “naked eye observatory” in the crater of a dormant volcano in the Arizona desert. If I had one wish it would be to experience first hand the incredible visionary phenomenon that Turrell is creating here, although only a few people will ever do so as the work, despite its vast scale, is made to be experienced in relative isolation. In the context of this exhibition the images and objects within this room function as the commodities that the gallery is selling and as vehicles to support the kinds of uncommodifiable art that Turrell produces.
Hungry for the real experience and unable to even consider the possibility of buying one of these evocative images, I move quickly on, along a darkened corridor towards a large room containing two of the three light installations in this show. Sustaining Light, 2007, is a wall mounted image, in the format of a traditional painting but containing a programmed neon light setting behind frosted glass which creates an ever-evolving light composition. It is a bit like an animated Rothko, compelling because of the subtlety of the gradual osmosis from one coloured composition to the next. I am reminded of Brian Eno’s mesmerizing but also revolting 6,000,000,000 paintings at Fabrica in this year’s Brighton festival. Turrell’s shifting light has none of the crude patterning and uncomfortable colour juxtapositions of Eno’s work, here colour flows without form.
The remainder of the large room houses a long queue of people snaking their way around the edges of what looks like an inflated unexploded landmine. This is Bindu Shards, 2010 an immersive visual and auditory installation experienced one person at a time. The fifteen-minute sessions inside this capsule are, regrettably, all booked up for the duration of the exhibition. During the hour I spend in the queue around the edge of this installation I observe the theatre of three people entering and exiting the capsule. The door opens to reveal an icy blue interior and a bed, akin to that we associate with a MRI scanner, sliding out to be met by white coated technicians who help the occupant back into this world and then prepare another for a journey beyond. During their time inside, those on the outside observe slivers of colour-changing lights flashing and pulsing through the intentional gaps around the edges of the door. Above, reflected in the glass roof, the capsule hangs moon-like.
The queue is for the third light show, Dhatu, 2010, situated in an adjoining room. On entering this space those waiting are met by the sight of a set of steps leading up towards what looks like a large flat-screen television projecting changing colour and footless figures with bodies shaped in awe. It is a work of visual trickery made evident when one of these figures walks towards the apparent screen and steps out, crossing back from a place beyond and leaving behind a ripple in the illusion. The next person in line moves forward becoming a character in this plot-less drama, crossing the threshold from one place to another. The waiting is filled with expectation. What are these people looking at? What is holding them in this space? What do they see when they look back at us through the portal? What will I find there?
Shoes off, feet encased in protective plastic bags, ritually cleansed and ready to enter the temple, a black-suited assistant leads me to the door.
The space is a curved-edged colour-field, no corners to hold and trap the light, a sloping floor and angled walls erase the sense of a frame around the entrance. The light inside is softened, perhaps with dry ice, it’s not clear, a kind of smokiness holding the colour evenly throughout the space. The back-wall another neon-lit screen. I stand before it allowing the colour to enter and become me. My open eyes feel closed, no edges or shapes to give focus to my thoughts. I surrender to the changing colours.
Turning I look back at the entrance and see through to the world outside, the queue like a distant memory, another world another time. The shifting flowing colour of the interior space creates the illusion of an exterior shift in colour. Pastel, blues, pinks, purples inside yellows, oranges, greens outside. I don’t remember the colours changing as I waited in line, what would I know? that was a dream this is real.
An adolescent girl walks awkwardly along a suburban street carrying a large disco ball. Squares of sunlight dance all around her, bouncing off the brick walls and cracked paving stones.
The ball is heavy and difficult to hold. The girl would prefer to be almost anywhere else but here with her mother and a camera pointing at her. Legs, in laddered black tights, perform contortions as she attempts to regain her grip on the difficult object and still the sparks of light flash over windows, wing mirrors and wheelie bins.