Lunchtime talk write-up
Posted on Tue 29 Nov 2016
Artistic Practices in Urban Contexts
Artist and researcher Teresa Dillon has recently joined the Studio as Watershed Professor of City Futures at UWE Bristol. Her artistic practice takes the form of performative and sound interventions.
Artist and researcher Teresa Dillon has recently joined the Studio as Watershed Professor of City Futures at UWE Bristol. Her artistic practice takes the form of performative and sound interventions. During her Lunchtime Talk, Teresa shared her recent project, Canary Songs – a sound reneactment and choral performance drawing on historical stories and accounts from the canary girls. Teresa has a special interest in sound representations of the built environment and defines a sound reenactment as a the acoustic reproduction or interpretation of an existing, disused or demolished building. It was fascinating to hear the process behind researching and creating an aural representation of the women’s working conditions and the balance between historical accuracy and artistic vision. Here are five things I learned about Canary Songs:
1. The canary girls were the female workforce behind the shell filling factories during the First World War. The women got their name from the poisonous TNT that stained their skin yellow and made them nauseous. Chilwell Factory near Nottingham was one of 16 shell factories across the UK. The largest single explosion occurred at Chilwell in July 1918 killing 134 people, including 25 women.
2. Chilwell’s main factory floor, called The Great Store, measured the same as seven football pitches (over 30,000 sq. meters). The working conditions would have been incredibly busy and noisy. Teresa used hand drawn architectural drawings, maps, oral histories and archives at The Imperial War Museum to build up an impression of what the factory would have been like as a work place.
3. Using this impression and her knowledge of the materiality of the building and furniture, Teresa worked with Dr. Zora Schäfer Kalkandjiev from Audio Communication Group, Technical University in Berlin and an online sound archive to acoustically model The Great Store, creating a simulation of the sonic environment. Using a send and receive model, Teresa constructed a layered track replicating each individual sound as it travelled through the vast space.
4. Combining her research and acoustic modelling with artistic interpretation, Teresa worked with choir director, Lyndsey Cockwell and 25 women, who voluteenered to take part in and create the live performance. Lyndsey runs the Berlin Pop Choir, which Teresa had earlier joined in order to better understand the working processes of choirs. The choir sang early nineteenth century songs, interwoven with the soundscape of the factory. Canary Girls was performed in a cinema space to enrich the sonic experience for the audience. Teresa worked with designer Mia Morikawa to create simple cloth costumes inspired by the chemical stains left on the skin of the canary girls.
5. For Teresa, this project was an exploration of remembering and recognising the human working conditions, which lie behind intensive periods of military action and technological progression and the role women played within this. To this end, Canary Songs also explored female camaraderie, employing an entirely female team and female volunteer choir.
Canary Songs was commissioned by Phoenix, Leicester and the Cutting Room and performed at Phoenix Arts Centre, Leicester in April 2016.