A Sura Medura exhibition is running from 21st April to 19th May 2017 at The Briggait in Glasgow. The exhibition includes a range of work by artists who have been artist-in-residence at Sura Medura in Sri Lanka.
Wave Shift, a new work made in collaboration with artist and illustrator Natasha Russell, is premiered as part of the Sura Medura exhibition. Read more about Wave Shift
The final stage of our residency was focused on preparing for our Moving Out event. Overall, the day at Sunbeach was a wonderful combination of visual art, sound, sculpture, video, performance, people, food, beer, Arrack sour, sea, sand, laughing, chatting, sharing…and cake (what a fabulous day for a birthday!).
We were thrilled to have a good local crowd join us for the day, and also delighted that so many people came down from the Colombo Biennale and the University Faculty of Visual and Performing Arts to join us for some or all of the time.
In our exhibition, which combined some finished elements and work-in-progress, my sound work Sabda saha Pintura was available as a headphone installation.
The title Sabda saha Pintura means sound and picture in Sinhalese – through much discussion this seemed to be the most apt translation for the collage idea I was working with in the piece. Exploring differences in the English/Sinhalese languages was very intriguing – how or in what way metaphors or concepts translate, for example, sound, soundscape, landscape, environment.
During the afternoon an audiovisual tuk tuk tour was running – a collaboration between Natasha (Russell) and me. Three people at a time could hop into Sudu’s tuk tuk and take a short round trip to visit Natasha’s work in local shops accompanied by my soundtrack. Big thanks to Sudu and Chinthaka for running the tours.
The soundtrack combined recordings I gathered from those shops – people introducing themselves and their businesses, shop sounds, etc – the general store, jewellers, barbers, a fruit and veg stall. I also recorded an introduction to the tour in Sinhalese, with pronunciation help from folk at Sunbeach.
Before a fantastic Sri Lankan curry banquet, I accompanied Samson Omiagien with some live vocals for his performance piece with sculpture, which we had rehearsed in the lead up to the event.
Later in the final week we headed up the road for the Colombo Biennale. I was absolutely delighted to have been invited by Shereen Perera to perform a live score for Video Jam – an event running as part of the opening night.
My film extract came from the beautifully strange, thoughtful film Light in the Yellow Breathing Space by Vimukthi Jayasundara.
I still have much to reflect on – such a wonderful thought-provoking time. Thanks to Neil and UZ, Chaminda, Chathura, Hasantha, Kari and all at Sunbeach, Maria and Jack, my fellow artists-in-residence, everyone I met.
I was excited to be invited to create a live score for the Video Jam event on the opening night of the Colombo Art Biennale, Sri Lanka. I responded with a solo vocal performance to a beautiful clip of Sri Lankan film-maker Vimukthi Jayasundara’s Light in the Yellow Breathing Space.
Sunbeach, where we are staying for the residency, is a great place and everyone is really helpful so eventually, after the first week, things settled down a bit.
In week 2 Sumit arrived so there was a bit of getting-to-know-you time, and the three of us chatted regularly. We discovered common and differing ways in our processes and practices, and endeavoured to understand how each wanted to work. Because we all had phases where we needed to work alone, the gatherings were particularly valuable and supportive.
In week 3 we travelled to the University Faculty of Visual and Performing Arts in Colombo and shared our work in presentations with students and staff. That was a really good day – as well as meeting people, we were fortunate to be shown round all the art departments then had lunch before travelling back.
Process and Decision-making
With presentations done it was now time to develop a work. I decided early on that my main tools for gathering actual sound material would be binaural microphones and a portable recorder. Part of my plan was to respond in different ways to the environment for future reinterpretation in sound, for example through spontaneous mark making, but I knew I definitely wanted to make a sound work for our forthcoming residency event later in November.
I realised quite quickly that that idea was a bit challenging – for one thing, I was conflicted about spending too much time composing at the computer when there was so much to explore and experience. The heat, humidity, mozzie bites and limited equipment threw in additional curves to negotiate. I also knew I wanted to do some kind of performance. I decided just to keep gathering and see what happened.
Thinking about soundscapes
The sound environment is generally very dense and I spent quite a bit of time actively listening and drawing. The area is divided – beach side and jungle side – and each has its own distinct soundscape. On the beach side the sea roars continuously as the surf thunders in and on the jungle side the air is thick with heat, bird song, massive trees rustling and people going about their daily lives. A railway line runs between the two through much of the area and regular trains, horns and bells punctuate the air. In the mix are a whole rich array of sounds – the hollering voices of people selling at markets and on the street, the honking and revving of huge buses overtaking other vehicles at breakneck speed (treacherous), thunderstorms and torrential rain, intermittent firework eruptions, the bread, fish and other vans making melodic announcements and so on.
Developing a work
At some point, I started to sense rhythms and cycles, and this was to become a guiding feature of the sound/music. In the end, a piece emerged in a collage form, through which I tried to evoke an essence of this wonderful place. I was initially concerned that the binaural recordings might be difficult to work with in this way because they were so dense but in actual fact they worked really well because the place and spatial content was so rich and varied. I could both cut between different sounds abruptly and find similarities that allowed me to morph from one sound to another. While doing this work I saw there was another strand I wanted to develop, working with voices, as well as continue with drawing/mark making – but that will come later. Ultimately there were many ideas…
Now it’s also time to start preparing for Moving Out and the Colombo Art Biennale…more on that in part 3.
So, here I am in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka for a six-week Sura Medura residency. I travelled out with Natasha Russell, one of the other artists on the residency, which worked out really well. We only met up once before leaving so it was a great opportunity to natter round our initial thoughts more. Fellow artist Sumit Sarkar arrived a couple of days ago. Another couple of artists will join at various points along the way.
The first week or so was a whirlwind of sensations…heat, humidity, sounds, smells, surf, swimming, dogs, jungle, mozzies, temples, food, walks meeting many warm friendly folk along the way…and chat – people sharing stories and offering tips, and us at Sura Medura sharing experiences and ideas. There was definitely a process of adjusting, settling in and finding the way around. Now various things are brewing but it’s still much more about experiencing and gathering at this point. We have presentations to share in Colombo early next week and a Moving Out event planned for 26th November as part of the Colombo Biennale 2016 here at Sunbeach. Exciting to see what will develop. I’ll return soon with news about how things are moving along. Now I think I’m finally arriving…
I am happy to announce that UZ Arts has selected me for a Sura Medura artist’s residency. I’m so looking forward to travelling to Sri Lanka in late October 2016 for six weeks. I’ll be developing new work inspired by the environment and community. I’ll also be posting updates over the course of the residency.