What would our impact on the planet sound like if we could hear it? Artist Heather Theresa Clark has attempted to show us with her giant soundscape hung inside a complex scaffolding system.
As part of a group show, Landscape in an Eroded Field, at the American University Museum in Washington DC, Clark was tasked with creating a work that reflects the age of the climate crisis. But instead of representing what is visible and in plain sight, she uses sound to explore our new reality – the familiar, but ungraspable.
Clark uses a series of machines to imitate sounds of nature – water fountains, fans, and multiple record players. The record players play Daniel Levin's improvisational cello Living. An orchestra is created by placing each set of machines on their own programmed cycle. Sometimes all three sets of machines play at once, while other times, only one or two sets of machines play. Any overlap is serendipitous and by chance. It's unlikely that the same pattern will happen twice.
An adjacent monitor shows a video of traditional Sacred Harp Shape Note singers recorded in an industrial wind tunnel. The four singers sing and then repeat, the classic song, Idumea. Adhering to the shape-note singing tradition, they first sing the "shapes" (i.e. the sounds that represent each note of music), then they sing the words. The wind tunnel fans quickly pick up speed.
Alberto Gaitán, a soundscape contributor, says that "each sound maker follows its own logic oblivious of the others. It will be in the observers' ear that these cycles will blend into an aesthetic experience, an understanding related to their ability to deeply listen and otherwise engage with the work. The same might apply to humanity at this geologic instant. It is within our capacity to marshal reason constructively to minimise the existential threat that the products of human technological evolution are having on our environment."
Named The Erasure of Everyday Time, the soundscape is "physically tied to the world's fossil fuel economy in both its industrial materials and its electricity consumption". And the scaffolding is "temporarily borrowed from the construction industry for this creative gesture, while the work parallels how we are all indebted to fossil fuels, despite our best intentions".
On view until 15 March 2020 at the American University Museum, Washington DC. Discover more of Heather's work at www.heather-clark.com.