Guest Post: A Review of Settling by Iona St Joseph

The following article has been written by Iona St Jospeh in response to my exhibition Settling, at Gracefield Arts Centre this year. Special thanks to Iona for taking her time with all of the works (and me!) and offering up this generous, thoughtful response.

“Settling – a process of becoming, to make calmer or quieter, to begin to feel established, to reach a resolution.”

Arriving at Gracefield Arts Centre in Dumfries, I was immediately struck by the location. Before I’d even set foot inside the gallery, I noticed the surroundings and the season without having any inkling that these would be themes that I’d pick up on throughout Katie Anderson’s exhibition, Settling.

Running from 8 October – 12 November 2022, Settling was an exhibition made up of different works combining sound and visual elements, described as “a reflective exhibition bringing together a series of sculptural sound and installation works, many exhibited in a gallery space for the first time.”

Featuring a pair of environmental sound works re-imagined for the gallery, alongside new audio works and installations exploring place, identity, and environment, the pieces in Settling invited the audience to take a journey and I was excited to see our local area interpreted through someone else’s eyes.

Speaking to artist Katie Anderson, she said the exhibition was brought together to create a dialogue between each of the pieces, allowing the viewer to create connections within their own experience. Many of the works have been commissioned as stand-alone works in the past but bringing them together in one place for a longer period of time offered visitors the opportunity to experience those they may have missed, or perhaps discover something they hadn’t seen before.

Each of the works was located in its own part of Gallery 1 at Gracefield Arts Centre, a fantastic location that gave the pieces the space and freedom that the theme of the exhibition called for.

Voices of the Future: Furness Academy
A film installation including film work by Colin Aldred, artworks created by young people and screen-printed cushions.

The work in ‘Voices of the Future’ and the story behind the project were showcased in a video which visitors were able to enjoy in a calm space, having the opportunity to sit and watch creativity at work. Exploring ideas about the local environment through an innovative screen-printing workshop, the project presented Katie’s work with students from Furness Academy, which they then shared with key local decision makers.

Speaking to Katie about the project, it was interesting to learn about the artist’s role in the project and how creativity can often be a facilitator for important topics of conversation. Some of the students weren’t sure what they should be presenting, or what exactly their opinions on climate change were, but that by taking part in the inventive workshop and screen printing their own designs, they were able to find a voice during the creative process.

I felt an element of solidarity with the students and their uncertainty; there often feels like we need to have fully formed opinions on complicated and nuanced topics like climate change, especially when we’re exposed to the constant news cycle, but having the opportunity to channel our thoughts through a creative outlet can remind us that we don’t have to change the world on our own. The Future Voices project shows that we can take it back to a local level and work out what each of us can do in our daily lives to make the small changes that start to add up. Taking the first step, no matter what your creative outlet, is often the starting point for us to develop it into something bigger.

Barrow Tarot
Installation including tarot reading table, hand painted signs and tarot deck.

Barrow Tarot is a work that explores possible futures in a local community and the meaning of identity in a changing environment. During her time spent as artist in residence in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, Katie discovered that Barrow is a place and a community struggling with identity due to the disappearance of commerce and employment with the decline of industry in the area.

Poverty and climate change issues are a very real, constant threat (coastal areas of Barrow are at risk of flooding and other direct climate impacts), and many of the themes of the Barrow Tarot cards are hyper-specific to the place. Katie found that she could use this to structure the little moments found within identity and everyday life into something inspirational and playful, contributing to ideas for possible futures.

Through conversations with local people and unpicking the layers of this community, Katie was able to help give a voice to the incredible stories and experiences that remain within a place, cementing them for future generations.

Rather than giving a reading as is traditional, the aim of Barrow Tarot is to open up communication and give people a starting point to be able to tell their own stories, share experiences and take part in conversations about often challenging topics surrounding home, identity and livelihood.

Similarly to the Furness Academy students in Voices of the Future, the topics of community and climate change can often be big issues to tackle but presenting it in an original and thought-provoking way specific to a community helps to encourage people to share their own experiences.

Small Gestures
Sculptural ‘handheld’ speakers with looped audio soundtrack.

“[Small Gestures] feels like the first run of a piece, rather than the final version.”

Referencing the everyday and drawing attention to intimate moments, articulations and evocations, Small Gestures showcases the is an awareness in recording sound (Katie used a variety of equipment, from a mobile phone to professional sound recording equipment) and how it allows you to discover the undercurrent of a place.

Built from sounds and experiences, Small Gestures gives the listener the freedom to stand and interpret the piece as they see fit. It invites you to slow down and to take your time; to connect with what you’re hearing, which is a different experience to what we’d traditionally consider as viewing a piece of art.

One of the sounds within the piece is a rag and bone man, recorded whilst Katie was visiting a friend, who is part of the tapestry of a local community. Small Gestures highlights the sounds (and sights) that we often take for granted, provoking thoughts about locality and what it means to be rooted in a place.

Having the opportunity to stand and listen for a while, pausing the constant narrative of what I should be doing, was a welcome invitation, and a reminder of the importance to stop and listen in our everyday lives to notice what’s going on around us.

The Call
Aluminium cones, ply speaker boxes and looped soundtrack, photographs.

“How does the extra layer [sound] transform how we experience the space?”

Until this exhibition, these soundscapes were site specific commissions designed to be viewed outside, and The Call is not something we might traditionally associate with a gallery space. Described as “a roaming sound work” and “a playful investigation of space through our audible landscapes”, Katie was interested in how space contributes to experience depending on external factors, such as weather conditions or background noise.

Once again, I enjoyed being able to stop and listen, having the freedom to interpret the sounds in my own way. The colours and imagery on the walls of the pieces in an outdoor environment really added to the experience, reminding you of how the space around the piece can contribute as much as the work itself.

Speaking to Katie about the exhibition, she mentioned that it was a little intimidating taking sound into a traditionally visual space. How would people interpret the space? Would the walls feel bare, and lack the focal point, with the work situated in the middle of the room? Considering these points after the fact, I realised it wasn’t something I noticed at all because I was so focused on thinking about the sound, and I find myself wondering how other visitors may have interpreted the pieces in their own way.

Sound Horn
Copper and aluminium horns, looped soundtrack.

An immersive sculptural and sound installation, Sound Horn explores the effect of a created soundscape on our experience of place. I found this piece opened up an opportunity for participation and conversation and really invited the visitor to think about what it meant to them.

Adapted for an indoor space, Sound Horn is an impressive piece with the beautiful visual appeal of the sculpture combined with the reverberating sounds in the room. I found I was drawing on themes which got me thinking about the sounds and places local to me, and I enjoyed having the time and space to think about what that means.

“where do we go from here?”

Reading back through my initial thoughts from Settling, it’s fascinating to see the themes that emerged and were noticeable throughout. I wasn’t expecting to be able to interpret such clear messages from the exhibition, particularly with the sound works, and whilst some of the motifs can be clearly interpreted from the pieces themselves, other wider messages are perhaps things I’ve been subconsciously looking for in the world around me.

Hope, connection, communication and locality were all threads that I drew from the exhibition, as well as experiencing someone else’s connection with the local area, which I found interesting.

Settling gives the viewer an opportunity to reflect, to focus on the importance of slowing down and to consider listening to the world around us for a more connective experience. Taking time to think about and take in the world around us is something that could benefit everyone and Settling provided that opportunity away from the noise of everyday life.

The focus on locality and the everyday are themes that stood out to me, and are things I’m conscious of in my own life. The impact we allow social media and the wider news agenda to have on our lives often feels out of our control, but the reminder to focus on the world around us, the things we can change, and the things we do have in our local community was a welcome antidote to the overwhelm of the online experience.

Regulars to the gallery have commented that Settling is an “unusual” exhibition in that it introduces sound as an art-form, and it gives people the chance to experience and interpret work in a different way. I would agree it wasn’t necessarily what I would have expected from an exhibition, but I left with a renewed hope for the future, and the inspiration to better use my own creativity, so I think I’ll take unusual every day from now on, thanks.

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