BLUE TEARS 2005 Silo Espaço Cultural for the Centre for Contemporary Art, Porto, Portugal. Multimedia installation by Russell Mills and Ian Walton Commissioned by the Fundação de Serralves, Museum of Contemporary Art, Porto X-rays, rusted corrugated metal sheets, two single channel DVD films (skull/head 38 minutes, hands 17 minutes 52 seconds), two DVD projectors, five light boxes, sand, lighting, asynchronous six CD players, 12 speakers surround sound system Films by Russell Mills and Ian Walton; edited by Russell Mills and Mike Fearon With thanks to Frank Carroll Landscapes can be deceptive. Sometimes a landscape seems to be less a setting for the life of its inhabitants than a curtain behind which their struggles, achievements and accidents take place. For those who, with the inhabitants, are behind the curtain, landmarks are no longer only geographic but also biographical and personal. – John Berger, A Fortunate Man Allen Lane The Penguin Press, London 1967. When I pronounce the word Future, the first syllable already belongs to the past. – Wislawa Szymborska, The Three Oddest Words, New York Times Magazine (1 December 1996), p. 49. The eye accomplishes the prodigious work of opening soul to what is not soul – the joyous realm of things and their god, the sun. – Merleau Ponty, The Primacy of Perception. The richest events occur in us long before the soul perceives them. And, when we begin to open our eyes to the visible, we have long since committed ourselves to the invisible. – Gabrielle d’Annunzio, Contemplation de la Mort 1928. esse et percipi – to be is to be perceived – Bishop Berkeley Blue Tears explores the contrasts and/or comparisons observed in the temporary and the fixed. A work of gazes and of dialogues that leaves each his own space for reverberations; the installation is concerned with vision and the penetration of darkness as metaphors for our most intimate concerns. It is a work of remembrance and of witness in the ceaseless, torrential flux of time. It seeks to reflect on the possibilities of the animate, organic, seemingly order-less havoc of nature and the conversion of these energies into new visual, audio and conceptual contours. It is both an ending and a beginning. Blue Tears is a term used to describe tears that cannot be stemmed, despite all efforts, tears that flow in extreme emotional states. As a title it also references the paradoxical characteristics of salt, the main component of tears, and time; both are preserver and destroyer. BLUE TEARS A Blue Tear is a slowly floating cloak of particles. Stillness spiralling into life: a universe made light. An aerial array of luminous powder, older than memory, whirling, blown on the wind, penetrating all spheres, weaving all knowing signs, hieroglyphs to the eye. Like a shoal of silver fish, shape-changing surf of shine, it heaves, crests and pivots in a blink, as one. Or the granular enfolding of a flock of birds, a mantle blackening the sky. Moving through our sleep like the sea’s insistent breathing, a connoisseur of the hidden, its blind fingers feelsees over sleeping slate, stone and metal. Creep of now, lighter than itself, it etches a dappled membrane, carving a glowing tracery the gold of marmalade to red of furnace: an indelible ferric rebus. A Blue Tear is an irrevocable law, a relay unceasing of assemblage and dissolution. It quivers between the certain sheer of the cliff and the swirling blue unknown below, between light and the abyss, where the earth crumbles into edges. A shuddering of the minute before the massive; the world’s gradual instant, as it glimmers, it vanishes. Mineral mother matrix holding signs of life in rock, messages of the dead encoded in stone, it is the geology of objects defined by the space in them. A Blue Tear divides the world. Suspended in the void between fingers reaching to touch fingers, or where two eyes are mirrored, eye meeting eye. Invisible it reveals the visible. It knows only edges and the space between a shadow and its host. An alignment of signs, co-ordinating movement invisibly from this place to another, from that moment to this, its breathing is felt as it passes and parts the air. A Blue Tear moves moon-slow or with the whirr and scissors’ slice of a camera’s shutter, sharp and sure, it defines a natural pause, an interval between two or more phenomena occurring simultaneously. It moves, is fluid, looking to change the static, neither still nor stirring but touching all into meaning. A Blue Tear is immune to the moon yet it is pulled by the poles. Vapour once ocean, it defies the tides from which it explodes. Stolen in an instant it flies, wingless, drifting, in negative shimmering with a spectral aura, its own shadow seen in reverse: the mirror’s ghost seeking to surface as skin. A Blue Tear is a sentient lens telescoping time. It crouches silently in the dark corners of rooms, defining the points of the compass rose. Living in darkness or hugging the hearth, it is held in a world of shadows, willing captive in the hush of history, grounded in the familiar embrace of home, where life is lived. It shouts in whispers of moments salvaged from time passing, memories dense with meaning. A Blue Tear is both form and shape-shifter it is a secret made external, an outside that is inside, a secretion, internal made external; an inside that is outside. Wanting to roll back into its eye it slips its meniscus lip, tips and seeps from within. Withheld until it can no longer, it escapes to a resisting world. As it falls it sculpts bowls from stones. A Blue Tear is filled with signs of the ephemeral; manifestations in a cycle, fixing and solidifying, it freezes movement. Unseeing it senses the moment of movement: the fading and wilting of flowers; shadows cast on water and the flickering moments of the soul as the last thin breath plumes, ascending. Colours painted by light, bleached or eroded by the rain, transfigured by time, anticipating destruction in slow motion on the journey to extinction. Transformed from one state to another, it gradually fades objects into shadow stains of themselves. A Blue Tear is now, waiting for when as then expands, while when shrinks to now. As the “I” of eye it is forever as now, forever in now. The Silo Espaço Cultural The Silo Espaço Cultural is an innovative exhibiting space, conceived especially for the Norteshopping, the largest shopping centre in Northern Portugal, situated in the Senhora de Hora district of Oporto. Designed by the Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto Moura and opened to the public in 1999; it is a 12 metres diameter, 2 storeys high, open cylindrical building. The ground floor is 5 metres high and the first floor is 15 metres high, capped by a circular convex clear glass roof. Stairs at one side of the building link the two floors. The Silo Espaço Cultural is linked to the Norteshopping centre by a wide corridor, which is also used as part of the exhibiting space, thereby conjoining the exhibiting space and the public, retail space, encouraging public inclusion.
THE INSTALLATION Corridor Entrance A long wall is clad in corrugated metal sheets. At the entrance from the shopping mall the sheets will be pristine, becoming progressively more corroded as one moves along the corridor towards the Silo exhibiting space. Spaced equidistantly along the floor on the opposite side of the corridor are 5 x 44 cm square light boxes, each facing up. Emerging from a mound of salt crystals, they reveal montages of X-Rays. Lights in the corridor are covered in triple layered amber and gold gels, soaking the whole area in a golden glow. Top Floor/Entry Level From floor to a height of approximately 18’, a 28’ section of the curved wall is clad with sheets of rusted corrugated metal, in varying states of corrosion, patinated by the saline sea air of the Oporto climate. A film is projected onto the metal-clad wall creating a slowly changing veil of imagery approximately 16’ high. The film shows a succession of X-rays of human skulls blending almost imperceptibly into images of a nearly static man’s face etched with history, eyes opening and closing in extreme slow motion, perceiver being perceived, consciousness made visible. The skull X-rays and the head emerge out of and disappear into the metal sheeting over extended periods of time, thereby suggesting the uneasy symbiosis between the environment and our habitation within it. Lower Level Mirroring the configuration of metal sheets on the top floor, from floor to a height of approximately 16’ covering an area of approximately 28’ wide is a gridded wall of over 700 X-rays of human skulls. A film projection onto the wall of X-rays shows a pair of hands scarred and lined with a history of physical labour moving through a series of symbolic gestures: clasping they signify union, folded they represent repose and immobility, crossed at the wrists, binding or being bound, clenched, threat and aggression. As with the skulls and head, they slowly dissolve into and out of the skull X-rays over prolonged periods of time, alluding to both the neural and the cultural links between the brain and the hand in our quest for progress. Sound The sound work consists of highly magnified and heavily treated sounds of natural phenomenal processes in movement, such as ice cracks and movements on, in and under ice floes, stones falling, earth sliding, waves building and breaking, and winds through trees. These are complemented by more electro-acoustic musical elements. Utilising various recording studio effects programmes, shifting 3D movements mirror processes of the natural phenomenal world and explore and enhance the unique spatial architecture of the Silo. The individual sounds, whilst apparently being paradoxically opposed to the emotional associations triggered by the visual elements, allude to the effect of climate and environment on the shaping of our lives, personally, locally, historically, culturally and socio-economically. The sound work is an asynchronous and immersive sound environment created by the use of a multiple 6 CD and 12-speaker system in addition to the “in house” PA system and its built-in 4 pairs of spaced speakers. Each CD carries a different menu of individual sounds of varying lengths, as well as tracks of silence. With each player set to random mode, the multiple menus continuously slip out of synchronisation, thereby creating a self-generating, constantly changing mix in real time. Consequently every visitor experiences a unique and wholly immersive sound experience. Skull/Head Transitoriness of life; the vanity of worldly things; death; memento mori; the moon; the shades; the dying sun; gods of the dead, time. Conversely, a symbol of the vital life force contained in the head. Alchemic: with the raven and the grave, the skull is a symbol of the blackening and mortification of the first stage of the Lesser Work ‘earth to earth’; dying of the world; also that which survives and is used as a reminder of life and transmutation. X-Rays & Shadows X-Rays are paradoxical. The medium’s potential to visually penetrate opaque objects exposes the negative by means of the positive, transforming the invisible into the visible. An X-Ray creates an external image of something from deep within ourselves; we have to see it with our own eyes before we can take it within ourselves again. Its shadows, like images of distant universes, reveal the presence of something that is history; scars, after images of the way things were before. A luminescent distillation of time, each of us is an intricate biological self, a ghostly, mysterious landscape of visceral interiors; dark tangles of vessels, ganglia web of nerves, cells and hidden truths. Ghosts of radiation, we exist in the world merely as a few cells under a microscope or on a chart of data. All are cast by shadows and all casts shadows, all contain shadows as shadows contain us. Shadows have no shadows even within themselves, and like us, they die without light and yet light also erases them. Umbra nihili: the shadow of nothingness. Hands Aristotle’s seminal phrase, “instrument of instruments” defines the hand as both an object and a body part: it inhabits the liminal space between the object world (the world of tools it employs) and (as the physical metaphor for those instruments) the world of interiority, intentions, of the self. The hands may almost be said to speak. Do we not use them to demand, promise, summon, dismiss, threaten, supplicate, express aversion or fear, question or deny? Do we not use them to indicate joy, sorrow, hesitation, confession, penitence, measure, quantity, number and time? Have they not the power to excite and prohibit, to express approval, wonder, shame? – Quintilian (A.D. 40 – c. 100) Hand gestures, like other forms of physical nonverbal communication, are culture-specific and can convey very different meanings in different social or cultural contexts. The same gesture can have very different significance in different cultural settings, ranging from complimentary to highly offensive. Street gangs, teenagers and Freemasons use specific hand signs and handshakes, as do different religious denominations. Disembodied hands in myth, allegory and films symbolise the uncanny. To the blind the fingers of the hand are essential, enabling the reading of Braille by touch. In the frenzied bear pit of the stock exchange, a recognised hand sign language enables traders to buy and sell, and on a busy racecourses bookies use a sign system of flaying hands and arms called Tic-Tac to signal changing odds across heads of the crowd. Symbolic attitude of the hands Right hand; hand of power; held up in blessing and pledges the life principle. Left hand; passive aspect of power, receptivity; also associated with theft and cheating. Clasping; union, mystic marriage, friendship, allegiance, promise. Folded; repose, immobility. Crossed at the wrists; binding or being bound. Open; bounty, liberality, justice, providence. Clenched; threat, aggression, demanding, prohibiting, threatening, power, strength. Outstretched; blessing, protection, welcome, questioning. Placed together; defencelessness, submission of a vassal before the sovereign, inferiority, inoffensiveness, greeting, allegiance. Placed on each other, palm upwards; meditation, receptiveness. Washing hands; denotes innocence, purification, repudiation of guilt; denial. Wringing hands; excessive grief or lamentation. Covering the eyes; shame, horror, aversion, fear. Laying-on; transference of power and grace and healing, promise, transmission of spirit. On the neck; sacrifice. Placed in another’s; pledge of service, the right hand pledges the life principle, protection. On the breast; submission, attitude of slave or servant. Raised; adoration, worship, prayer, salutation, amazement, horror; also the receiving of the influx of power; joy. Raised with palm outwards; blessing, divine grace and favour, promise. Both hands raised; supplication, weakness, an implication of ignorance, dependence, surrender; also invocation and prayer. Raised to head; thought, care or anguish. Shaking the hand; forms the cross or ankh of covenant, a pledge.