As a former co-director of Platform Arts I had the opportunity and privilege to get to know the work of many exciting artists within its studios. Liam Crichton, a Scottish, Belfast-based artist, is one such practitioner, whose upcoming show shall take place in the gallery space above. In the run up to his June exhibition, titled S I L E N T V A L L E Y, I spoke with him about his project and processes.
Can you tell me a little about your upcoming exhibition at Platform Arts?
S I L E N T V A L L E Y is a site-specific, multi-media installation encompassing sound, sculpture, and light. The title takes its name from the man-made reservoir that serves the city of Belfast the majority of its water supply. It is an area of ‘Outstanding Natural Beauty’ but at the same time is a human-formed, industrial artifice.
The appropriation and re-contextualization of this sense of dichotomy, in a particular metaphorical relation to Belfast, aligns with my developing field of research into physical space. In particular, that of urban voids – spaces absent from an everyday, conscious or acknowledged understanding. These are, however, still important places from a social and geographical perspective, evoking the presence of absence, an absent present or even a present absence.
This work marks a new point of experimentation. I have always been interested in the theory of sound and in sound as a medium within my installations and my practise generally. Predominately, my interest has been in using found and then manipulated tracks or scores. This will be the first time I have co-produced a score. The sound piece is in collaboration with Ricki O’Rawe and integrates recordings from the site of Silent Valley. The sculptural work follows my continuing, aesthetically driven, abstract, formalist, and post-minimal visual vernacular process.
How have the sculptural processes and sound production processes related to one another so far in the making of the work, now that you are combining your solo practice with a collaborative venture?
So far, the main relationship to come out of these processes is that the sound has to be considered as a sculptural entity, a physical being that has its own form. For this reason we have placed great importance in producing the track/score in stereo. Although it will be played through a series of guitar and bass amps that operate via mono inputs, in retaining the stereo format this allows the ability to pan across the whole 3500sq ft gallery space, creating a subtle sensory shift relative to the viewer’s position. This potentially fluid nature will also contrast to the industrial, abstract forms contained within sculptural steel frameworks.
As far as the combination of my solo practise and this collaborative venture, the sculptural work remains my own and the sound production is the collaborative aspect. There are crossover points in conceptual interests, particularly in theories of liminality and the liminoid, between myself and Ricki that gave rise to us coming together in the first place and continue, connected throughout both these making processes.
What has your working process been like in the run-up to the show? Has there been a balance of forms/sounds that are directly extracted from the site or is the work more a result of experimentation using Silent Valley as a starting point – how “site specific” would you describe it?
The working process has involved a site visit, where we stayed within the area of Silent Valley for a few days and carried out field recordings with both contact and field microphones. Taken directly from the viscera of the valley, these recordings are now the subject of ongoing experimentation and recontextualization in relation to Belfast and the urban environment in general.
I have made a scale architectural model of the gallery space and am at the same time experimenting with sculptural maquettes that play with form, proportions and compositional layout, influenced by my own practice and the aspects of Silent Valley that attracted me to it initially. Where possible all of these actions/experiments are conducted in my studio space, which I think allows the work to develop side by side, as one.
In terms of the exhibition being site specific, the Platform Arts gallery is central to playing off this idea of the metaphorical valley. It is the highest exhibition space in Belfast with views of the hills that surround the city and also the tallest buildings in the city’s skyline – although for this show the windows will be boarded over. The existing structure of the space is also a major factor; the proportions are long and narrow allowing a perceived corridor, which also creates a channelling of sound.
There seems to be an element of transcendental experience in your work – how do you relate to the industrial materials you employ?
My choice of industrial materials stems from the everyday, they are non-specialist and inexpensive, they are the fabric of the built environment that surrounds us. Practicing in an abstract process, stripping elements to their essence, and employing these materials maintains a bareness or rawness to the work which I think allows the most space for transcendence. The appropriation also comes from my interest in dichotomy, creating a parallelism between the sacred and the profane.
S I L E N T V A L L E Y is showing at Platform Arts, Belfast from June 5th to July 4th, opening June 4th 6-9pm