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Home > Artist Blog > Footsteps around Peterborough: A reflection on the first half of my residency with Metal Culture

I knew very little of Peterborough other than it was a quiet city straddling a river on the other side of Cambridgeshire from where I now call home. When I found out I was lucky enough to be one of Metal Culture’s residents this year, one of my first thoughts was I must learn more about Peterborough itself.

And so, during the second week of January of this year, I set about getting my feet on the ground and walking the streets of Peterborough, visiting the city collections and filming and recording what I could. With great luck, I had a week of stunning weather to capture the city and its landscapes across a spectrum of moods – brooding gray through to glorious blankets of sun and blue sky.

My original plan for the week was for me to set to workshopping and developing two works. Both of them intended combining film and sound with something I had very little experience with, projection. But as any artist in residence will tell you, ideas rarely colour within the lines, and one’s imagination cannot be limited to whatever responsibilities you believed possible to impose upon it.

The first work I set about developing was a two-channel video and sound work, SPOKEN ECOLOGIES. Planned to be a work driven by a shared narration and sound-score, I hoped to play with shared and opposing film between the two screens. One screen depicting natural elements and the other, man-made. The challenge proved to be that I had almost no footage, and had not composed the narrated poetry before I arrived. And so, the sites of Peterborough from its Lido gardens, walkways, city museum, parks and Cathedral filled the work with their details and grandeur. Following the film and a greater understanding of the city I was discovering, I was then able to develop the words and sounds to follow. An excerpt from the first draft of the narration follows:

Turning slowly
That is how time revolves
In circles, small and large
Inside these rotating spaces
There are threads
Streaming threads of sound
Carrying within each of them
Each voice like ribbons of silk
Woven
And interwoven
Like a cloud of choruses

My original hope that it would be a work that, through recordings of the voice and of conversations, would create an immersive film where we could contemplate how well we were connected through storytelling and through time – even during times of physical disconnection. I am unsure if this has been achieved so far, but there is still time to consider how speech connects us to a place and how voices (maybe even, a chorus of voices) can operate like an ecosystem.

Still of Pham testing some projecting of SPOKEN ECOLOGIES. The projected footage is from Peterborough Cathedral.

Still of Pham testing some projecting of SPOKEN ECOLOGIES. The projected footage is from Peterborough Cathedral.

As for second work was something I was certain I would not have time to trial. Especially as much of my time was spent editing rather large film files (and rendering them for seemingly hours!) and getting to grips with using a projector in the studio. But it seemed luck was on my side and I managed to test out the second and more technically challenging work, ORGAN FRUITS. Brought with me were two clumsily constructed ceramic heart glazed in white I produced a few months back. The idea for the odd ceramic organs was to create a sound sculpture installation resembling a tree with these curiously grotesque objects hanging off it like fruit. The key challenge was to figure out how to hang these objects that were heavier than I anticipated and to test out some basic projection mapping technique. And so, with the help of the Metal Culture team, we hoisted the two vessels from the ceiling and I managed to project some simple footage of a woman waking up from dreaming onto each ‘organ fruit.’ A still of my first attempt is below.

Still of Pham testing and developing ‘ORGAN FRUIT.’ Two white ceramic hearts each with a projected film on each object.

Still of Pham testing and developing ‘ORGAN FRUIT.’ Two white ceramic hearts each with a projected film on each object.

 

My week culminated in a studio visit and presentation of the two works in progress to the team and students from SENSE on my final day. The second primary motivation for the development of my work was to learn how to make my installation mediums that are so reliant on visuals and audio, to be more accessible to those who have a different lived experience from me. The feedback from SENSE and dialogue with their students was invaluable and I realised how much I underestimated the need for gallery spaces and artworks to be clearer in communicating how interactive, participatory or open their spaces and exhibitions are. I also realised, rather naively, that I have a limited understanding of the diversity of different needs and experiences with seeing and hearing – something I hope to continue educating myself about and continually improving upon. I cannot thank SENSE enough for their time and their gems of wisdom, that I will no doubt absorb into my practice and life from now on.

Most importantly, thank you to the remarkable team at Metal Culture who are truly the dreamiest creative family one could hope for. Thank you for welcoming me into your space, Ruth, Sarah, Jack and Mark, and helping me sort through ideas, concepts and encouraging experimentation while I developed work alongside you all! Thank you to my projection mentor, Yandell Walton, for guiding me through using a projector more creatively, and to the team and students at SENSE who so graciously gave me their time to trial my works-in-progress with them and for all their feedback. And to fellow residents, Molly and Jess, thank you for your kind words and your supportive thoughts. I cannot wait to return for the second half of my residency in late March!

 

Footsteps around Peterborough: A reflection on the first half of my residency with Metal Culture