St Pancras Station has been the site of some controversial proposals for art works since its re-opening. Paul Day’s 9-metre high bronze sculpture of a piscine headed couple embracing, The Meeting Place, included designs for a relief depicting a commuter falling in front of a train driven by the grim reaper, which unsurprisingly was not realised. Another popular work is a benign bronze sculpture of the poet John Betjeman by Martin Jennings. The latest artwork to be conceived for the station is Lavinia Greenlaw’s Audio Obscura which presents a nuanced interpretation of narrative possibilities in the international terminus.
In her new audio work, Audio Obscura, created for the station, Greenlaw invites us to engage in a process, which she refers to as ‘dark listening’ in which “unconscious aspects of perception are brought to light in ourselves.” As visitors to the work wander freely through the hustle and bustle of the station wearing loaned personal headsets fragments of conversation can be ‘overheard’. Like fabricated eavesdropping, broken narratives are projected onto passing figure’s amongst the station crowds. In method and format the work is reminiscent of The Missing Voice (Case Study B), an earlier audio piece commissioned by Artangel from Janet Cardiff, in which an audio track heard through a personal headset layered an additional reality onto the streets of Spitalfields, East London – to eerie effect.
Audio Obscura was conceived following the idea of the camera obscura, a form of proto photography which projected a moving image of the outside world into a darkened room and was once a popular form of entertainment. Like the camera obscura, Audio Obscura seeks to present “a framed and heightened reflection of the passing world.” In producing this work Greenlaw listened repeatedly to recordings of actors performing her monologues and tested each edit in the context of the station to achieve a sense of the overheard. Greenlaw describes the experience of Audio Obscura as “not one of being told something but of becoming conscious of what we do with what we listen to”
Audio Obscura has been commissioned and produced by Artangel and Manchester International Festival with support from Emmanuel Roman and Arts Council England.
Lavinia Greenlaw is a poet and has published two novels and two works of non-fiction. She is professor of Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia.
Audio Obscura – 13th September to 23rd October 2011. Headsets will be available for loan daily from 12 noon to 8pm. This event is free but a credit or debit card or mobile phone will be required as a deposit.
Publication: Audio Obscura by Lavinia Greenlaw, with photographs by Julian Abrams. Published July 2011 by Full Circle Editions . 64 pp. ISBN 978-0-9561869-7-3. Price: £9.99. http://www.fullcircle-editions.co.uk
Image: Photograph by Julian Abrams.
For further information and to view the trailer see www.artangel.org.uk