After a paying a visit to Helen Frosi, Creative Director of SoundFjord, I asked her about the inspiration behind this fantastic space, and what lies in store for the next few months.
How and when was SoundFjord established?
SoundFjord began as a mutual interest in sound as an expressive medium for both sound designer, Andrew Riley and myself.
We had entertained ideas of opening an ‘alternative space’ since moving to Seven Sisters back in 2007, having seen a plethora of warehouses and units reeking with a history that asked to be used in unorthodox ways. I’d also lived in an old shoe factory in Homerton so knew firsthand the possibilities open to the artist.
So back in 2009 when a space became available below our own living quarters (part of Studio 28, an old fabric factory), we decided to take it on. Not knowing exactly what we wanted to do, the space shape-shifted from a silversmith’s studio to a would-be Foley studio until we finally settled on the concept of a gallery dedicated to sound art and its related practice, and thus making the most of both Andy’s and my personal fascinations and expertise.
After some initial research, and great surprise that there were many sound artists, but no UK gallery solely devoted to sound art, to show work with the support and sensitivity the medium deserved, we decided to go full steam ahead, and set to work converting the space from the live/work unit is was - painted magnolia, but otherwise in good condition - into what is now the gallery.
After an initial call out for interested parties and those willing to give their time and enthusiasm to the venture, (the gallery was set up with our own funds and continues to be self-funded, relying on the commitment and vision of individuals on a voluntary, skill-share or ‘swap shop’ basis) and an open day in May 2010 - to acquaint people with the space and ourselves, we opened our doors to the public on 31st July 2010 with live performances, installation, and ‘soundcentric’ film; a taster of things to come…
What is your own background, and how did your interest in Sound Art develop?
My background is in the Fine Arts, and that’s been my main point of entry into the Sound Art world.
I’d been following the Media Arts closely since around 2000; studying with, and being lectured by, artists working beyond the scope of the canvas and into time based media. I became fascinated by seminal artists such as George Maciunas, Allan Kaprow, John Cage and much of the Fluxus crowd; how they looked at the world in a political and playful manner and how all the senses were often thrown together.
Being aware of an art that contained sensory elements such as olfaction and touch as well as the influence of time and space, certainly left me open to how sound could enter the ‘white cube’ and have a place within the conventions of the art world as well as in its origins in the venues, coffee houses, empty plots and academia of experimental music, poetry, film and famously, the Happenings.
In my own way, my early career as an artist influenced by everything I took in (not just observed) allowed me to explore a variety of the paradigms and conventions prevalent within the Fine Arts: challenging the obvious commodification and the objectification of the art object whilst examining qualities of ephemerality and intangibility, the difficulty of curating sound-focused works, and the importance of site-specificity alongside the documentation of such works.
With this sensory sensitivity, sound became a fascinating yet problematic medium, something I was curious to explore further. And as my musical background was nothing other than a little sketchy – I still play a number of instruments ‘badly’ – I’d always wanted to look beyond the conventions of music: score, note, notation, instrument and so on, too. This amalgamation of curiosity and inadequacy has fueled my preoccupation with the medium of sound and its power for practical, intellectual and philosophical articulation between the nexus of music and visual art and beyond into scientific, sociological, architectural and psychological study.
Do you collaborate with other organisations and galleries, and if so, what do you think this brings to SoundFjord as an organisation?
Yes, and with individuals too. One thing SoundFjord has always hoped to be is an ‘open’ organisation – one that is eager to collaborate, create networks with artists and organisations, and welcome alternative ideas regarding how we might improve, as well as how folk might like to work with us. Indeed, since the very beginning, we have sought alternative opportunities and accessibility to bring to fruition our ideas and aspirations, as well as to survive in a precarious economic climate by alternative means.
We are a relatively small organisation, but one with strong ambitions for the sound art community, and because of this it has always been beneficial for us to be aware of our limitations. We use these restraints to our advantage, utilising the gallery space in imaginative ways, programming a mixed schedule of events, workshops and exhibitions, and often allowing the space to have a ‘double life’. However to progress we must look elsewhere for assistance to implement/fabricate our vision.
Collaboration between like-minded individuals has been something that I personally enjoy – it’s a great way to bounce ideas from one to another and can be a fun way to find fresh ways of looking at the world. By working in collaboration with an individual or an organisation, combined expertise and assets may be added into the melting pot that is the sum of a combined project, skills and equipment, and by having more people available on a project, collective time is amassed alongside multifaceted outlooks for mutual benefit.
For SoundFjord's latest exhibition, Lost Sounds, we worked with Sound and Music, and Café Oto to produce a performance and installation featuring works by Miki Yui and Rolf Julius, devised by Rie Nakajima as part of their SAM/OTO projects. Without either organisation’s experience and practical knowledge, and Rie’s vision, Lost Sounds would certainly still be a notion rather than a reality.
We promote the values of ‘openness’, participation and sharing – this may be through time, vision, expertise, equipment, funds and anything else that can be given in kind, shared, swapped or bartered for! – with monthly networking events, technical lectures, curatorial partnerships, open applications, projects and exhibitions free, and open to all. We also welcome others to join us in whatever way they can.
Alongside your permanent gallery space, I understand that you run an online residency programme, how does this work, and what are the reciprocal benefits?
Thinking back to “knowing our limitations”, we decided that a physical residency would not be viable alongside our busy exhibition programme, so we had two thoughts – one, that residencies could be inclusive of exhibitions given to artists e.g. 50% of the exhibition will be given over to a residency; or two, that we would instead have an online residency, where we utilise the internet as a ‘physical’ space for artists to present their work. We decided upon the latter, however the former is still an idea that is also on the cards.
So to explain a little more about the online residency: what we aim to give to an artist on this scheme is all the support and opportunities that one would receive from a physical residency. Before an artist begins his/her term as A-i-R, detailed discussions are organised to ascertain an artist’s interests and objectives. Once commencing, regular meetings with curators and artists related to their practice will be organised, and professional and critical advice and support given where necessary. Those on the residency will be able to attend all our events for free and will receive online space to exhibit works in progress. Should the work warrant exhibition, plans will also be set in place to allow this to become a reality.
On some occasions artists will be asked to write blogs about their time as ‘non-resident’. With time, these will serve as a priceless resource noting, first-hand, the ideas and practical and philosophical concerns of the artists, highlight sonic art as an ever-expanding art form, strongly embedded with its own trajectory, concepts and history.
It is our interest to promote sound art in all its forms to a wider audience, and to support those working within this field. Using the Internet as a platform for artists is simply an alternative response to our limitations, making the most of what we have and what we can give whilst benefiting the artist. Webspace is supplied to each A-i-R for ‘electronic exhibitions’, and the Internet as a whole can be manipulated as a promotional tool and as a gateway for access to work-in-progress and blogs. Making use of the Internet is an easily accessible platform for the public to come into contact with sonic art, thus promoting and demystifying it to positive effect.
Such residencies allow SoundFjord the honour of working with progressive artists, whilst maximising their potential. In reciprocation, working with these artists will allow us to constantly assess our exploratory work and research and improve our education programme and research platform, whilst we continue to look for alternative ways to expose the public to the importance of sound art practice.
Do you work nationally and internationally, or is your current programme and audience base local to London?
Most of our projects-to-date are local, working within London and its environs, however, our programme tends to feature international, in addition to local, artists. I think this is testament to how far-reaching sound art is, as well as to the vast number of practicing artists interested in the concerns of sound within experimental music, visual art practice and other disciplines.
Those that visit the gallery are varied: some are glad to have a gallery “they can walk to” whilst others make the journey from cities such as Manchester, Sheffield and Oxford. I’m often amazed by the special effort some make to visit us when in the UK on holiday or business. So far we’ve had folk from across Europe, America, Singapore, Japan, New Zealand and Australia pay the gallery a visit.
Our online audience seems to be just as international. Those that are not able to visit us keep in touch primarily through our digest, which is sent out monthly to those signed up. It features opportunities, news and exhibitions and events pertinent to sound-related research, practice and performance. Others keep in touch with the gallery through our Facebook site or Twitter page, which documents our events as well as any interesting information we come across. Of course, we welcome participation – news and views from others!
Our aim is to think globally – to eventually have hubs elsewhere working under the same remit – to foster, platform and promote sound art and its related study and practice to a wider audience. In 2012, I’m involved in curating an audio-visual exhibition, Sublimation, featuring live performance and audio screenings at Oboro in Montréal, Canada, and plans are also afoot for a pan global performance later on that year…
SoundFjord will continue to curate an extensive programme of events and exhibitions on a global level, but will be focusing on expanding its UK-based events and exhibitions throughout 2011. We will continue to have an open call for applications and welcome collaborations.
Can you tell me a bit more about the research element of your programme?
One of the problems faced by sound art is that there is a (misguided) notion that this genre does not really have a history – academic, philosophical or practical – and that it is ‘new’, or worse, a fad.
For these and other reasons, such as sound’s ephemeral nature, its curatorial and installation difficulties and innate ability to confront the commodification of the art object, sound art as a shape-shifter is often seen as a trouble maker and should not taken seriously as a genre within its own right. In fact, I’ve even seen sound art written as ‘sound art’ - as if there is a huge question mark over its existence!
To help redress this imbalance, we continue to incite research projects, but equally encourage artists to approach SoundFjord with their research and possibilities for projects, be they papers, proposals for installation, educational works, performances or other. Should we see merit and future possibilities in the research we may commission further research, offer artists research exhibitions, or allow our space to be used for sonic experimentation.
ARAR were the first artists to use SoundFjord as a hub for their research (performance) back in October 2010, whilst Tim Yates will present his research project Drone Room from 07-12 March 2011 within the exhibition space. Sarah Harvey will be presenting an extension of her Chambers research at the gallery in June/July 2011.
In the future, we aim to run a Researcher-in-Residence programme to compliment the Artist-in-Residence (online) programme launched in October 2010.
What do you have lined up over the coming months, and how do you see SoundFjord evolving?
Being adverse to hiatus, once our most recent installation, Lost Sounds, comes to an end at the beginning of March, we set to work on installing out first research exhibition - an interactive installation by Tim Yates, entitled Drone Room. The work will turn the gallery into a resonating chamber, and as it requires audience participation, do drop by and explore the project first hand!
Following on, we have our monthly Sonic Social, an informal networking event for those interested in discussing sonic matters (with a beer in hand) on March 14th . Hlysnan, our monthly screening event on March 20th – Martin Clarke will present an audio diffusion and film and SoundFjord. Dynamic, the live division of SoundFjord, will present Jo Thomas and Tom Richards in an evening of cyber technology and alternative spaces, nonsensical electronics and errors on 23rd March.
To round off the month, Steve Roden will visit SoundFjord from the US on a short residence that will feature talks, a ‘sharing’ workshop, an unorthodox ‘in conversation’ with Daniela Cascella, and will culminate in a performance at Café Oto with Robert Curgenven and FOURM.
Looking to the months ahead, SoundFjord will continue its research strand with work by Sarah Harvey, whilst also curating a varied exhibition programme. Our screenings will feature evenings with Stuart Bowditch (Hybernation), Constantine Katsiris (Scant Intone) and Lucia H Chung among others.
For the spring, we are producing a performance at Holy Trinity Church with Eugenia Emets and Diana Pommills featuring singing bowls and cello, and organising a film screening for our AudioKino season of sound-sensitive film and video works, whilst occasional podcasts are set for release (produced by Adam Asnan). We also have plans for the long summer days – including sound walks, on location recording and field recording workshops in association with no.w.here, and further Foley master classes.
Going forward, it’s important for us to work with others to continue to produce a varied programme of exhibitions, events, performances and workshops; to promote the work of artists; foster an environment of learning and varied expression; and to cultivate sound art’s acceptance as a valid and relevant art form.
In the future we hope SoundFjord will expand enough to house dedicated spaces for research (library, archive), residency and exhibition, whilst working all the more with international artists, curators and visionaries.
And finally, what has been your favorite project so far?
This is a tough question, but if I really have to make a choice, I’d say the Exquisite Corpse project. It was our first project, set before we even opened the gallery, and one that lasted a good 5 months. It features 50 international sound artists, split into five groups.
The project was conceived around the idea of the Exquisite Corpse1 – the writing or drawing game made infamous by the Surrealists, featuring rules, not dissimilar to the parlour game, Consequences.
For our Exquisite Corpse – designed for sound rather than the medium of drawing, or writing – the object of the ‘game’ was for each sound artist chosen, to respond to a given stimulus. Andy and I had been interested in the way the senses can and are translated within the Arts and decided to incorporate such ideas into the original exquisite corpse idea. We chose five strands for our project - each correlating to one of the five senses.
What I found most fascinating was the transmogrification that happed once we had sent the five ‘sensory objects’ to each of the starting artists in the five chains. Within the two-week deadline we had set (for each artist), we received five new works related to the original pieces by translation through the medium of sound and the personality, interests and experience of the artist. These works were sent anonymously to the next corresponding artist in the chain, and so on until the project had blossomed into 50 works (well, 49 actually as one work was never finished!).
It wasn’t an easy project - project managing 50 artists was quite a task, and then my computer blew up so it was memorable on many different levels. But seeing the project progress slowly, with its quirks, hurdles and triumphs was more than worthwhile.
The project will be exhibited at SoundFjord from 13th April 2011. To date, the curation remains a secret, even to the artists, and it will be at the PV when we reveal the artists involved to the general public!
1Originally, the Exquisite Corpse is a method by which words or images are assembled in sequence from a variety of sources (or people) without prior knowledge of what came previously, except for a tantelising snippet of text or image from the information directly before it. The result is known as the exquisite corpse or cadavre exquis.
Helen Frosi is Creative Director of SoundFjord, as well as Co-Director of the organisation along with Andy Riley.
SoundFjord | Unit 3b – Studio 28 | 28 Lawrence Road | London | N15 4ER | 02088003024 | email@example.com
Open: Wednesday to Saturday during exhibitions | noon to 6pm | Free entry