There were several reasons why everything seemed strange today. I hadn’t slept much throughout the week and had begun to feel slightly unhinged. It was a momentous day, the day that Scotland voted whether or not to remain a part of the United Kingdom. Nothing felt quite real. Then I arrived at Junction in Goole and that didn’t help! I’d been before and I knew that Junction has a black box studio theatre, so I headed into the corridor, which had always led me there. Not today. I was greeted and asked to put white paper covers over my shoes. They were pointy and felt strangely Dutch.
A man opened a large zipped doorway and I was enveloped in white, as I stepped into the entrance of a huge, inflatable tent. I was greeted by a gentle breeze and, with the paper ‘boats’ on my feet, I walked along the ethereal passageway into a soft, white space. I had pictured the dark auditorium with raked seating but here I was, stepping into a cloud. It felt airy and pristine, like a laboratory or maybe a space ship. I quickly lost all sense of where I was going. Now it seemed to be the deck of a ship, with white deck chairs spread out and I became a passenger on a mystery voyage.
As I sat in one of the deck chairs, it creaked noisily and I was handed a pair of headphones and a blindfold. Then I leaned back and set sail in the curved, nylon cocoon. A woman’s voice spoke in my ear and I heard: “Limbic light in the late afternoon. You wake and then you sleep. The world is a far proposition...” Music and words were weaving a tapestry in my ears, inside my head. Beautiful, mesmerizing stringed instruments transported me to far off places. I later found out that there was in fact only one instrument, a cello, sculpted into a symphony of strings.
I felt like an explorer travelling at great speed and going who-knows-where. I peeked out from the blindfold. The white space was quiet and buoyant with one or two people languishing in the deck chairs. We may have been in the same space but we were each on our own journey. I was on a pristine beach, in a soft, melancholy place, where everything felt disembodied. The voice said: “The walls balloon and lift, breathing you. Draw in the lightly scented air...” I did as I was told, closed my eyes and drifted away again. In my sleep-deprived state, I was easily convinced that I’d entered a dream. “You are a landed fish in a net of wires and nodes. Now, you are journeying in intercellular space, dropping deeply inward, passing galaxies...”
Three children arrived and sat down in front of me, putting on the blindfolds and headphones for a short while before jumping up to go and explore the computers in the next part of the space. The strange atmosphere and the possibilities of the equipment excited them. Whenever a person sat down, the deck chairs creaked and groaned. The voice in my ear said: “The world is a far proposition. A hand smoothes your brow.” The environment suddenly felt quite medical, with myself as an unwitting volunteer in an unknown laboratory experiment. I couldn’t remember where I had originally set off to and I wasn’t at all sure where I’d ended up.
I spent a little while longer listening to the soundscape and wondering at the sensation of travelling through space and at the possible nature of this otherworldly experiment. Then I went to the next area to sit at one of the computer stations and put on the headphones. Here you could create your own versions of the soundscape. I wasn’t sure how it worked and a technician arrived to explain.
I discovered that the coloured balls on the screen represented sound samples. I was encouraged to trace a pattern with my finger on an electronic tablet, which was linked to the computer. A cage then moved across the screen, corresponding to the pattern drawn. As it traced the journey that my finger made, the cage collided with the coloured balls on the computer screen, triggering the sound samples. Elements of the soundscape that I had been listening to in the deck chair were being reworked as I doodled.
The music samples were the same cello fragments with which the composer had begun and there were also fragments of the spoken text. The different sequences created a collage of music and words, which kept being remixed as I drew. I continued tracing patterns and listening to the trajectory of sounds, drawing with light and sound and being drawn further into unfamiliar territory.
Then I moved to the next space around the corner, where children were enjoying themselves and groups of people were talking. A row of chairs was laid out, each having a joystick to operate. People wearing 3D headsets were moving strangely and making odd noises. Taking a seat, I put on a headset and found myself in a virtual courtyard, where I began to move through a landscape of coloured balls, which I now knew represented sound samples. By operating the joystick, I moved through the courtyard, where I collided with the coloured balls. The sounds were triggered, sometimes explosively. Now I was immersed within the sound collage.
Arriving at the last computer station, I experienced a virtual retreat, inhabiting an Italian villa, looking out from the balcony over the sea at birds, butterflies, sunflowers and trees and hearing sound effects through the headphones. I was navigating via the computer keyboard, as a technician had kindly placed my fingers in the right position before I set off!
This has been the fifth and final project for IOU to transform the theatre space at Junction. Each of the projects has had a virtual version created, which could be viewed in a separate workshop space, where Fulcrum was re-installed. I was able to navigate my way around representations of Junction and visit each of the IOU installations virtually, looking back across the five years of interactive projects, enjoying the playful experimentations with vision and sound.
This collaboration between IOU and Junction has been a great opportunity, combining art, science and technology and providing space to explore and to take risks. It has brought curious visitors into the centre and has generated starting points and a sense of possibilities to pursue further. I’m looking forward to the next phase, as IOU discovers the possibilities of new technologies, in conjunction with Huddersfield University.
By the time I came away, I felt quite dizzy, having been on a journey into the past and into the future, with what felt like many different modes of transport. If I’d felt strange when I arrived, I felt even stranger as I left. As I drove away, I recalled a line of text: “The world is a far proposition, its resonances receding.”