AAJ Press
Art & Public Space, Commissions, Commissions & Projects, Ecology, Environment, Health, Nature, Sound

Bill Fontana: White Sound: an urban seascape – Wellcome Foundation – 22 September – 16 October 2011

‘White Sound will create an entirely new acoustic architecture that challenges our sense of place and dissolves the physical sensation of being in the city within an experience of the tidal rhythms of the sea.’

A new commission / installation by sound artist Bill Fontana will replace the noise from the gridlocked traffic on the Euston Road in Central London by the sound of waves breaking onto pebbles with White Sound: an urban seascape. One of London’s most polluted urban thoroughfares will be transformed with a live sound feed from Chesil Beach in Dorset at the Wellcome Foundation.

Pedestrians approaching the Wellcome Collection along Euston Road will find themselves enveloped by the sounds of waves, which will be projected onto the street. The river of cars, buses and lorries will continue its slow progress, but the noise of engines and horns will be muted by the imported seascape.

Fontana’s work contests the visual identity of the built environment and White Sound’s transparent intervention will force a new apprehension of the space we move through. Sitting in traffic queues, time can appear to slow painfully, but the seascape evokes a natural activity that moves towards a deeper time: a continuous cycle carried over thousands of years. Placing the hypnotic sound of Chesil Beach on the congested Euston Road, White Sound raises questions about our understanding of stillness and movement, in both urban and natural environments.

Euston Road is one of the most heavily used roads in the UK, where pollution levels are at risk of exceeding EU limits. Camden Council contacted Bill Fontana in the hope of creating a project which would raise awareness of the polluting effects of traffic emissions on peoples’ health and the surrounding environment. By overlapping the sound of traffic with the sound of the sea, Camden Council hopes that White Sound: an urban landscape will make people take stock of their daily urban experience and encourage the use of non-polluting, alternative modes of transport.

Chesil Beach is formed of a unique 18 mile pebble bank, with the Fleet Lagoon on one side and the sea on the other.  Its stones, largely chert and flint, are graded neatly along its length, such that fisherman arriving by night are said to be able to locate themselves by the size of the pebbles beneath their feet.  The beach is part of the Jurassic Coast, and a UNESCO designated World Heritage site.  Film footage from the beach will play in Wellcome Collection throughout the installation’s run.

Bill Fontana (born 1947, USA) trained as a composer, and is celebrated for his pioneering work in sound, which explores the nature of our acoustic environment. He has exhibited his sound sculptures at leading museums around the world, as well as at iconic locations from the Golden Gate bridge to the Arc de Triomphe.  London has a particular call on Fontana, and his works here have included installations carrying the hidden sounds of the Millennium Bridge within Tate Modern and a live sound map of Big Ben at Tate Britain. His first explorations of the coastline and the unique acoustics of Chesil Beach, were linked to an installation at the National Maritime Museum and, most recently, the sounds of the Thames were brought within the subterranean spaces of Somerset House. He lives and works in San Francisco and is represented in the UK by Haunch of Venison.

White Sound: an urban seascape is created in partnership with Camden Council, Haunch of Venison,  the Socially Responsive Art and Design Hub University of the Arts, London, and Wellcome Collection. – 183 Euston Road, London – 22 September – 16 October 2011.

As part of Camden Council’s Green Camden campaign, a number of initiatives are running to help people make greener choices about how they travel. www.camden.gov.uk/greencamden

Socially Responsive Art and Design Hub is at the centre of a research and practice network located within Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and is part of the University of the Arts London. http://www.arts.ac.uk

Wellcome Collection is a free visitor destination for the incurably curious, which explores the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future. http://www.wellcomecollection.org

Image: Chesil Beach – Ferrybridge:  The Fleet during a major storm. SY668756. Copyright: Chesil Multi-Media Project (CMMP). http://www.chesilbeach.org/Pictures/index.html

Bill Fontana Webite: http://www.resoundings.org/

Q & A with Sonic Artist Bill Fontana: Silent Echoes at the Rubin Museum, NY – http://www.thelmagazine.com/TheMeasure/archives/2011/06/15/q-and-a-with-sonic-artist-bill-fontana-silent-echoes-at-the-rubin-museum

About jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space


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