S H A D O W S & D U S T
28th Oct 2014 – Jan 30th 2015
The inaugural exhibition @ Coffin Works
Open 10-5 Tuesday to Sunday
ABOUT THE PROJECT
Lying dormant for decades, Newman Brothers is a time capsule of a 19th Century factory in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. Manufacturing items for the funerary trade (to include brass coffin fittings and shrouds) the “Coffin Works”, as it was known, reopened on 28th October 2014 as a museum and art gallery.
Featuring music, manipulated found sounds, photography, spoken word and video, Andy Garbi’s audiovisual exhibition Shadows & Dust was especially created for the launch. It is also the first fully realised piece to incorporate his 4-year sound heritage research project The Unsung Antiquarium.
Featuring both physical and digital components, the 4-screen audiovisual installation remained in-situ for 3 months. Access to the digital works both on site (ibook) and online (including mobile devices, tablets etc.). will remain active for 3 years.
During the few remaining days before renovation work commenced, Andy was invited by Birmingham Conservation Trust to record as much as he could of the disused Newman Brothers site. Out of this brief documenting period, Andy created audiovisual artworks that contain the preserved acoustics and light qualities of the building interior before it changed. Featuring incidental marks accrued over time within the building, they give a glimpse of areas of the old factory that a) the public no longer have access to and b) in essence, no longer exist.
THE COFFIN WORKS PRIOR TO RENOVATION
ABOUT THE ARTWORKS
S H R O U D S (Quadtych Installation: Sound / Photography)
Shroud n. 1. A sheetlike garment for wrapping a corpse for burial. 2. anything that conceals like a shroud. v.tr. 1. clothe (a body) for burial 2. cover, conceal, or disguise (hills shrouded in mist).
The Oxford Concise Dictionary.
Incorporating extracts from recorded conversations about the function and symbolism of the shroud within different faiths, this audiovisual piece explores the potential for the extraordinary within the everyday. Using photographic images that the artist took inside the Coffin Works of the patina developed over decades on hundreds of panes of glass, the piece re-presents details within these found objects simultaneously across four video screens, utilizing the obscured views and translucent light qualities to generate an impressionistic landscape.
The notion of partial obscurity and veiled vision intimated by the glass relates to what lies on the periphery or just outside of one’s immediate environment, evoking what is sought in life and in death.
For the workforce, it is the dreams and imaginings of a world beyond the factory – their view clouded by dirty or frosted glass. For the deceased they produced artefacts for, it is the question of what lies beyond the corporeal realm – the ‘view’ of which is veiled or obscured by the shroud.
The relationship between the screens is augmented by four individual compositions (one for each screen) that are designed to react with the captured acoustics of the Coffin Works interior. Renovation work will have changed what the various rooms ‘sound like’ forever. The installation however, features the original acoustics of four rooms: the Plating Shop, Polishing Shop, Coating Shop and the 60’s wing. The vocal piece for example has been composed and sung by the artist in such a way as to draw attention to the bare concrete interior of the Plating Shop. By way of contrast the string piece reacts with the sonic characteristics of the Polishing Shop which has wooden floors and ceilings.
The four rooms theme echoes throughout the installation – four panels, four voices, a string piece in four sections, etc.
SHADOWS & DUST ibook audiovisual piece.
“Sound and light do so much to shape a space – they provide contours, contrast, perspective and above all, atmosphere. I only had a few days before the builders arrived to commence renovation work, but for at least two of those days I sat and watched how light affected the factory. Built in a ‘horseshoe’ shape and surrounded by tall buildings, a particular spot may only be illuminated for a few minutes before passing into shadow. This piece and indeed the photos of glass was the result of waiting, observing and praying that what I experienced would happen again before my time in the factory was up”.
Sounds from active industrial heritage sites (Museum of the Jewellery Quarter and Blists Hill Foundry) have been recorded and manipulated by the artist to highlight the harmonic content of noises that would have been a feature of factory life at Newman Brothers. The results are featured in the short audiovisual piece (see gallery) and also within two of the Shrouds compositions.
Rather than utilising traditional musical frameworks, soundscapes are created by blurring the boundaries between on site recordings, sound design and musical instruments. These featured sounds have therefore been forged from their original state into something new, thereby reflecting the foundry process of fashioning new artefacts from raw material.
“In searching for sounds to work with that bore relevance to daily activity at the Coffin Works, I spent a day at Blists Hill Heritage Foundry. The sound of the blast furnace at times swamped all other noises and yet when it relented there was a calm about the place – even birds had made a home there and were singing in the rafters. The combination of diffused light, smoke and noise was magical as was the skill of the foundry workers. In between sound recording I managed to capture some of the process on video.”