The Blank Contemporary Art in Conversation with Ed Atkins and David Kamp
The Blank Contemporary Art is an Italian artistic network who aspires to enhance the contemporary art world by connecting both national and international institutions, artists and the public through an abundance of projects. The conversation was situated online due to current coronavirus restrictions.
Ed Atkins is a British contemporary artist whose work comprises of video, text and animation. His practice can be described as ‘subverting the conventions of moving image and literature’.
David Kamp refers to himself as a ‘sound designer, composer and sound artist’. He works in close collaboration with institutions and artists to create his soundscapes and sound installations.
Both artists are currently based in Berlin.
The talk focussed on the work and processes of a film Atkins and Kamp collaborated on, entitled The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes (2019). It was curated by Atkins and the sound composed by Kamp. It is a silent film, originally created by Stan Brakhage, showcasing forensic activities at the Allegheny Coroner’s Office in Pittsburgh in 1971. Their collaborative efforts subject their viewer to the differences in senses as they encounter themes of death.
The conversation begins with Atkins and Kamp describing how the film materialised and how they became interested in this project. Atkins’ background in animation meant he grew interested in silent films, leading to the silent film by Stan Brakhage. He was interested in the absence of sounds in Brakhage’s film, especially as the film depicted dead bodies being autopsied. By adding sound to a silent film, it breathes life into the moving images and gives some weight to something that was previously weightless. This added weight creates depth and can affect how moving images, films or images are perceived. The addition of sound in Atkin and Kamp’s film provides their audience with additional sensory information, allowing them to apprehend the contents of the film through their own senses.
A point of discussion that intrigued me was contemplating, how do you add sounds to a gruesome film such as dead bodies being autopsied? What do they sound like, and how do you go about creating such sounds? What else do you have to consider? It is a technique known as ‘Foley’, where sounds effects are reproduced using various methods and then added to films in post-production. Kamp described this process as intense since he was confronted with unpleasant visuals in Brakhage’s film and aspired to create the soundtrack as realistic as possible. As well as giving presence to the people and the activities in the film, Kamp also took into consideration the environmental sounds such as sounds of ventilation and door openings. He had to think about the distance of these sounds – would they be heard from afar or close-up? – which led to finding a balance between background and foreground sounds in order to give an accurate representation of the space. On top of this, the autopsies are taking place in an operating theatre and so a consideration of how the sounds would sound in this space is also required since sounds are shaped by the space they are present in. Kamp’s description of the soundtrack and his methodology implies he is more concerned or more interested in achieving the balance between background and foreground sounds and recognising where sounds might appear in unexpected areas or at unexpected moments. It seems as though this level of sound design requires a great level of concentration and open-mindedness so you can imagine yourself in such a space. It made me realise how extensive this field of sound design is and how oblivious we are to the sounds of our environment, or in films, until they are absent.
Once the sounds were added to the film, Atkins detailed that the two elements, visual and aural, were separated in the exhibition. The silent film was situated in the basement of the exhibition space and the soundtrack Kamp created was played in an octagon-shaped hall, upstairs. While separated, the two elements were played in synchronicity. The idea behind this setup was so the viewer could move between the rooms and unite the two elements. Kamp explains that the viewer could decide which room they wanted to experience first and how this altered their perception of the film as well as the soundtrack; “[…] going from the sound room to the image room and back again and once they did that a few times, they had an idea of the sound and […] once you saw the picture, you perceive the sound room differently because you know what it’s referencing and the other way around.” The piece is connected through the memory of the viewer and this experience can differ depending on whether the viewer listens to the soundtrack first or if they watch the film first. It seems the viewer cannot escape the piece since they will either be looking at it or listening to it because each room stimulates a different sense. This feeling reflects our avoidance of the theme of the film, death, yet, in this situation, the viewer is constantly being reminded of death and what it means to be alive.
More information about Ed Atkins and David Kamp’s film can be found on David Kamp’s website: https://www.studiokamp.com/ed-atkins-david-kamp-schinkel/
 ‘Ed Atkins’, Serpentine Galleries <https://www.serpentinegalleries.org/whats-on/ed-atkins-0/> [accessed 14th November 2020]
 David Kamp, ‘About David Kamp’, STUDIOKAMP – Music and Sound Design <https://www.studiokamp.com/david-kamp/> [accessed 14th November 2020]
University of the Arts Helsinki Lecture Series: NOISE | Lecture by Rosa Menkman on Glitches in Artistic Practice
Rosa Menkman is a Dutch artist, curator and researcher specialising in glitch art.
Menkman’s practice consists of glitch and feedback artifacts which occur from accidents in analogue and digital media. She is looking to expand her practice into other subjects such as language and sciences in an attempt to further understand online materials. She asks herself; Where does my research become art? Where do they overlap? How do they come together?
Menkman’s interaction with digital media has led to an interest in resolutions, screenology and the utilisation of information, all of which, affect the portrayal of text and images and how we perceive them. Resolutions concern the image-processing technologies that are used to resolve an image. Often, the user only experiences the final outcome and does not consider the processes or conclusions involved. We simply absorb information as it is without thinking of alternative possibilities, what Menkman is trying to elucidate is that digital settings can change our entire understanding of information. This is inextricably linked to the notion of screens in which we extract information from. Screens are flat objects that display digital information which constantly metamorphose between the information and the user. They can be found everywhere, in mobile phones, televisions and computers, that we often forget that we are engaging with a screen because we only focus on the information. They are a lens in which we view information. Menkman wants to think beyond the screen and recognise that there is depth to digital media: “We need to realise how the media we use on a day-to-day basis shape our messages, not just by design, but also what is actually said.” It was interesting to learn about the digital world in which we interact with and the space in which you read something affects how to learn about it.
“To engage with digital culture means to be able to formulate a critical point of view, which involves analysis and active change through critical thought processes, such as speculation. Uncovering and studying these spaces of speculation is of vital importance and it is here where we find a growing need for players, such as artists, theorists, designers and many others, who continue to engage critically with contemporary cultures.”
Through her research, Menkman raised a point about why we create art. In her view, it is made for sharing, otherwise the artworks become a diary. Menkman shares her artistic outcomes onto the internet which consequently leads to perplexing encounters. One such encounter included having a user misinterpret her work as a video game. This misinterpretation was interesting because it made Menkman realise that people will have different approaches to digital art based on their knowledge and understanding; if someone thinks Menkman’s work is a video game, then they will look for gaming elements. Another encounter included seeing her images used elsewhere without credit. Since glitch art adopts a liminal aesthetic, individuals seeing Menkman’s work will not always realise that it is an image or an artwork. Instead, they see pixels, colours and lines (as seen in Menkman’s glitch portraits) and will use the image freely because they do not believe it belongs anywhere or to anyone. Focussing on technology means Menkman has a greater understanding of online parameters and tendencies, once something is uploaded to the internet, it becomes out of one’s control and it will circulate online forever. It made me realise the ambiguity of digital art as well as the complications of the internet.
During the talk, I was intrigued with the concept of liminality. It is a state of in-betweenness. In Menkman’s work, liminality occurs in her glitch portraits as they are halfway between a complete and uncomplete image. Even “noise” (reference to the title of the lecture series), both visual and aural, can be perceived as liminal because it is in a distorted state, in-between two points. It creates suspense because we cannot predict its outcome. Yet, liminality can also be observed in the artist. When an artist is about to create something but have not yet done so, they are in a liminal state; it is a space of transition and transformation.
More information about Rosa Menkman can be found on her website: https://beyondresolution.info/ABOUT
This week consisted of trying out electronic components for the first time. I obtained a breadboard and jumper wires alongside a selection of electronic devices; a mini vibrating motor, a solenoid, and a standard motor. Today, I wanted to get a feel for working with electronics by completing a simple circuit and learning about current flow. As I become accustomed to using electronics, I will start to incorporate more components and micro-boards.
The images above show a circuit with a mini vibrating motor and a circuit with a solenoid.
University of the Arts Helsinki Lecture Series: NOISE | Lecture by Bruno Caldas on Cybernetics
Bruno Caldas is PhD student at University of the Arts Helsinki, exploring the relationship between artificial intelligence and visual arts. His studies are focussed on cybernetics and machine learning tools.
Caldas began his talk with an introduction to cybernetics and his interest in autonomy. Cybernetics examines the notion of self-organised systems that are found in machines and in nature. However, within cybernetics is the concept of entropy and observing disorder in different kinds of systems. It begs the question; how can systems still function whilst demonstrating disorder? While some things may appear disorderly, they still follow a system and come back to an organised state. A system can even demonstrate irreversible actions and still follow a pattern, for example, birth, death and rebirth in the cycle of life. With this in mind, Caldas began raising thoughts about whether art incorporates systems, if there are systems of art, and if art could be thought of as a system. Some examples of systems found in art are the systems put in place at an art gallery or the systems within art history. I found myself thinking about what other systems exist within the art world.
Caldas has a background in film. After listening to his talk about cybernetics, I wondered how individual artistic works could have their own systems such as film and video. Most films have a closed system in which the film begins and then ends, consisting of entropy in-between. During this topic, a discussion was raised about non-human performances and their degree of meaningfulness. Non-human performances, as I understand it, are performed by technological entities such as artificial intelligence, machines and robots. Their level of meaningfulness is dependent on several factors, including authorship and level of performativity. We can provide algorithms for a machine, yet, the machine ultimately provides the outcome. Can a machine recognise what is considered meaningful? Do humans accept non-human agencies as meaningful? Perhaps we need to recognise that there is a coexistence and co-creativity with non-human entities as we need technology to move forward.
University of the Arts Helsinki Lecture Series: NOISE | Artist Talk by Ivana Franke
Ivana Franke is an artist based in Berlin. Her practice investigates the boundaries between consciousness and the environment, often in the form of light installations.
Franke began her talk with an audio-visual piece entitled Focal Slowing. We were instructed to watch the screen for the duration of the piece which comprised of black and white vertical stripes, frequently changing widths and therefore altering the colour of the screen. This, in my opinion, directly linked to the focal point of the course as the screen demonstrated a visual representation of noise (as seen in weak television signals). The audio accompanying the screen describes the listener sitting on a chair. This was something that felt particularly relevant since I was watching the talk online whilst sitting in a chair. It felt invasive, as if Franke already knew I was sitting down. The audio continues to describe the chair in further detail, the colour, the sounds, the patterns, etc. so the listener begins to create a mental image of the chair. However, Franke is intrigued in our perceptual differences and explains that the chair will always be unique to each listener due to our individual knowledge, influences and environmental factors constantly affecting our understanding. In addition, I was aware that there were multiple other listeners during the talk which created a collective listening space. We all envisioned a chair at the same time and are therefore all connected. I found this audio-visual piece quite inspiring and powerful and I hope to carry these ideas into my practice in the future.
Afterwards, Franke continued to show us more projects. One of her projects entitled Seeing with Eyes Closed consisted of a semi-circular structure for a person to sit in. A participator is instructed to close their eyes while bright white LED lights flicker simultaneously to induce hallucinatory images behind closed eyes. The participator may experience various shapes and colours or even visualise objects, scenarios or memories. Once again, each participator’s experience of the hallucinations is different and it raises questions of subjectivity and authorship as the “artwork” is happening in our minds. Franke asked participators to draw their hallucinatory images afterwards so comparisons could be made. She then developed Seeing with Eyes Closed into larger cylindrical structures so multiple people could experience the hallucinations at the same time, again, encouraging a collective, shared experience.
I left this talk contemplating about the workings of our minds and how this contributes to our individual experiences.
More information about Ivana Franke can be found on her website:
THROUGH THE BONES: Jana Winderen
This week I had the opportunity to listen to another online talk organised by PRAKSIS. The talk invites Norwegian sound artist Jana Winderen to describe her practice and her most recent works. This post details the talk and my thoughts towards it.
Winderen began the talk with the notion of listening. She is interested in how things sound and how we use our senses to assist the listening experience. As part of her work, she uses tools that can access obscure situations or sensations in search for sounds. Tools such as spectrograms, hydrophones and bone conduction, all of which enhance our sensory perception of sounds.
The talk largely focussed on Winderen’s interest with underwater sounds, as seen in her works, Spring Boom in the Marginal Ice Zone and Through the Bones. For Spring Boom in the Marginal Ice Zone, Winderen travelled to the North Pole and recorded sounds underneath the ice and shared these recordings as part of the talk. They resembled deep frequencies oscillating as well as an unexpected high-pitched sound of a seal. The recording reveals an ocean of noise that is often overlooked, mainly because we cannot see where the sounds are coming from; it creates a contrast between our visual and audible perceptions. By using a hydrophone, Winderen is able to collect new information about that area and compare them to multiple locations. Through the Bones explores underwater sounds of a river in Thailand. The title of the work is a reference to listening through bone conduction, as performed by local fishermen Winderen encountered. They are able to listen to the fish by placing a wooden oar to their head or by placing their head on the bottom of their boats; it highlights a new way of listening. Winderen recalls that these listening strategies had very similar outcomes to the sounds picked up by the hydrophone as both could pick up sounds of different fish. There was a mixture of low and high frequencies, comparable to an electrical “buzzing” sound and the fisherman could distinguish each type of fish using these sounds.
The talk gave emphasis to new ways of listening and the importance of field trips in sound recording. Field recording helps us to better understand our complex world; Winderen exercises field recording as art.
More information about Jana Winderen can be found on her website:
LISTENING TO SOUND: Hildegard Westerkamp
This week I had the opportunity to listen to a talk by Canadian composer, teacher and sound artist, Hildegard Westerkamp. The talk was organised by a Norwegian organisation called PRAKSIS and was situated online due to current coronavirus restrictions. This post details the talk and my thoughts towards it.
Westerkamp began her talk by encouraging the audience to close their eyes and practice deep breathing exercises. It is a process that prepares the body and mind for listening. Our ears act as microphones because we are hearing sounds all the time, but we can’t always listen to sounds all the time. This is because it takes time to process the sounds, interpret the sounds and make it our own. Westerkamp explains that we have to find our own rhythm. Every individual perceives sounds differently and this perception is dependent on our relationship to the environment and the materials within that environment.
Westerkamp shared several audios with us to listen to during this talk. The first audio, entitled Cricket Voice, is a musical exploration of a cricket. Westerkamp uses the cricket as a source of inspiration for a composition whilst using her own recordings of a cricket in the composition itself. The audio demonstrates a diversity of sounds from a single sound object and is a reminder that musical possibilities can be sourced from anywhere. In the audio, I can hear deep frequencies oscillating alongside familiar high-pitched cricket chirps; it feels ominous. It corresponds with the audio’s context as Westerkamp was exploring the ‘Zone of Silence’ in Mexico which is a desert that causes disruption to communication signals due to its magnetic force. A cricket was the most conspicuous sound Westerkamp encountered whilst there; she was composing with sounds of the environment.
The second audio, entitled Silent Night, prompted Westerkamp’s current thoughts on technology and the use of audio equipment today. She explained that public recording lends itself to public awareness because individuals show curiosity or discomfort at the thought of being recorded. However, modern audio equipment means we can record discreetly without the burden of public attitudes, for instance, most audio equipment are portable and headphones can be worn. Westerkamp explains that wearing headphones intensifies the listening experience since you are listening through a microphone which are not your ears. In her experience, Westerkamp said she felt “cut off” from the world. I understand this feeling as I have felt it myself. It is as if the sounds have been brought forward but our spatial understanding of the environment becomes blurred. You are simultaneously tuning in to a sound whilst tuning out of a familiar sounding world.
A point of discussion that I found interesting was the interpretation of sound as an abstract form which grows in relation to time, allowing for a structure to emerge. This interpretation parallels my sound drawings since a structure emerges when I draw the sounds in a chosen environment. The structure differs depending on the sound itself, the space it is contained in and the passing of time; sound, space and time are inextricably linked and ultimately shape the sound we receive.
In essence, the impression I got from this talk was that we cannot neglect listening if we wish to connect to our environment. It helps to ground ourselves and receive information from our environment so we can learn from it; it is a transformative process. In relation to sounds arts, listening allows a moment for possibilities to occur that can inspire or influence our practice.
More information about Hildegard Westerkamp can be found on her website: