Litmus Residency (part 3)

Neasa Terry

Exhibitions | 7 October 2017 - 2 December 2017

Oriel Davies is delighted to announce Neasa Terry has been selected for Litmus (part 3), which takes the format of a residency.

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Neasa Terry’s practice sits between art and design and Neasa will be in residence to explore emerging ideas relating to recorded sound, the human body, mechanical reproduction and technology, through a series of live performances.

Litmus is an exhibition and development programme offering curatorial and practical support for early career artists in Wales and the Welsh Borders to research, develop and present new work at Oriel Davies.

Find out more about Litmus here.

Litmus is supported by the Arts Council of Wales.

Documenting the residency process

An artist residency gives artist, gallery, and participating community an opportunity to explore, test, and create new work that resonates with ideas they are researching in their practice, as well as the residency location.

Neasa's residency here at Oriel Davies is no exception - she will use the Litmus space, as well as the local area of Newtown, to inspire her live research. This will take the form of a weekly set of 'research posters' which will live in the space, as well as online on her tumblr, and live events.

So how does this actually work in practice? Each week Litmus Curator Louise will be asking Neasa a question about her residency work as it evolves. In this way we hope to try to document the residency process.

Q1: Why do a residency?

I’ve recently finished an MA in Graphic Design after previously studying Fine Art. Towards the end of my MA, I was looking at the relationship between place, technology and sound and it quickly escalated into a larger project, looking at brass bands, mining, space exploration and sound archives. It’s a lot of really exciting things, but I need more resources and time to bring all these things together.

Q2: What ideas are you researching?

I’m looking at a few different things… but as a trained printmaker I’m interested in multiples and reproductions especially the reproduction of the human. I started to get really fascinated by the Edison tone tests, a set of tests carried out by the Edison company at the start of the 20th Century into the fidelity of their phonographic mechanical reproductions. These tests, conducted in front of an audience, pitted human against machine, the climax of which being ‘The Dark Scene’. As the lights dimmed the performance was given by the machine with the audience apparently marveling at being unable to differentiate between the two.

I’ve played in orchestras throughout my life and I love this idea of layering sound and how the strands of a score could act as different strata of the earth; above and below. It’s particularly interesting when you think of Wales’ history of mining; with substances from below coming to the surface... If we think of the earth in terms of layers or lines of a musical score how could that sound? Also, when you think of the types of spaces created through mining. Does this affect the sounds people hear and become accustomed to, and therefore the types of instruments they play?

I’m lucky enough to have an amazing name which has probably had an influence on my interest in space exploration. Earlier last year I was able to go to the Cosmonaut exhibition at the Science Museum in London and it was good to start making connections between technology, the subterranean and the strata of a musical cosmos. I started reading about the space race and some of the ideology behind it, particularly a man named Nickolai Ferov. In his ‘philosophy of the common task’ he proposed; the creation of technological, social and political conditions whereby it would be possible to bring back to life – by artificial, technological means – everyone who has ever lived. This reanimation of all human life requires some serious practical concerns, the most important being the physical space to accommodate all who have ever lived(!) Federov’s solution to this was to look to other planets in the cosmos (thus igniting the spark of the Soviet space race). In the archiving of sound, utterances of the body are preserved, and upon hearing, launched/reanimated from beyond the grave. Federov also proposed that museum space “should be created for every person who had ever dwelt on this earth,” anticipating the conditions where resurrection by technology was possible. The sound archive could therefore be seen as a ‘launch pad’, reanimating these mortal utterances, launching them into the cosmos.

Q3: Why make weekly posters?

Well, for a few reasons… I’ve kept a Tumblr for very long time and I post anything I come across that I find interesting/relevant to my work. I want to make sure that I'm using and engaging with this research, as it’s really easy to just post things and forget about them, so I thought that making posters was a good way of forcing myself to use and digest these references. Secondly, it’s not always that easy to make work, so forcing myself to do a weekly task is a good way to keep me both thinking and making. Creating posters is a new way of working for me too, but I like that each one feels like a mini-exhibition; a number of curated objects, working together on the page.

Q4: Share an example from your Tumblr page.

It’s not really an example, but at the moment I’m really interested in a musician called Hannah Peel. She has this amazing album out called ‘Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia’ inspired by the parallels between space travel and the human mind. It’s just great. She has these incredible live visuals too done by an artist called Daniel Conway. http://neasaterry.tumblr.com/post/165576635947

Q5: What is it that interests you in mechanical reproduction?

I spent 6 years studying printmaking, so I’ve had an interest in multiples, reproductions and copies for a long time. I’ve also had to read Benjamin’s ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ a lot.

Earlier this year I started reading about the Edison tone tests; tests carried out by the Edison company at the start of the 20th Century into the fidelity of their phonographic mechanical reproductions. These tests, conducted in front of an audience, pitted human against machine, with the audience apparently marvelling at being unable to differentiate between the two. In Nick Seaver’s ‘This Is Not a Copy: Mechanical Fidelity and the Re-enacting Piano’, he describes the climax of these tests as “the ‘dark scene’, when the lights would be dimmed and the audience, imagining they were listening to a live performance, would suddenly find they had in fact been hearing an Edison recording”. As a trained printmaker, the question of the fidelity of the mechanical reproduction has always been especially pertinent. In the reproduction of ourselves, we stare and marvel at our recreations, yet are repulsed by their clunky ineptitude. Under the cloak of the dark scene the line between human and machine is blurred.

Q6: What is a musical cosmos?

The belief in an inaudible music of the spheres is certainly not a new concept. People have long believed that the movement of the planets and stars emit a celestial hum imperceptible to the human ear (or perhaps we are just so accustomed to it that it longer registers).

In more modern(ish) times and bringing that concept to a more relatable scale (pun intended) we have someone like Daphne Oram who posited that we all emit an inaudible bodily scale due to the vibrations of hydrogen molecules in our bodies - http://neasaterry.tumblr.com/post/138033858452/daphne-orams-hydrogen-scale-from-an-individual In her book ‘An Individual Note of music sound and electronics’, published in 1972, she says:

How many musical hydrogen atoms have we in our bodies? […] the fat of our bodies has hydrogen atoms in it – so altogether we must be made of quite a few hydrogen atoms giving out their (very high frequency) musical ‘scale’! When you think of all the other elements, gases and compounds in our bodies the chemical ‘musical chord’ or wavepattern will in itself be amazing.

So if we think of the layers of our surroundings, way below and high above; and all these layers working in harmony, emitting their own particular ‘hum’ what would this score would sound or look like? When you think of that and then look at Wales’ history of mining, with layers from beneath being brought to the surface it gets particularly interesting. What would that sound like? Would it be like a tuba playing the part of a piccolo?

Q7: What interests you in Newtown’s history of textiles?

There’s definitely a relationship between textiles, music and coding. It’s like that binary idea of on/off positive/negative. When you think of the punch cards used in early computing and then how they were used in the textile and music industries. (Interestingly when you look up punch cards on Wikipedia it then moves to a picture of a loom and then mentions Jacques de Vaucanson who in the 18th Century also created clockwork automata, such as the digesting duck, a mechanical reproduction of a bird that could apparently eat and digest food, which then relates back to your earlier question about mechanical reproduction). I also like the repetitive movement involved in the creation of textiles and how it relates to the repetitive pattern of movement involved in conducting. Could the movement of weaving be transposed to conducting?

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