Circular Walk 1
Circular Walk 1: Hackney, City, and Thames, via Whitechapel
October / November 2005
Unit 2 Gallery, London, UK
Circular Walk 1: Hackney, City, and Thames, Via Whitechapel was exhibited from 7th October – 11th November 2005 at Unit 2 Gallery in Whitechapel, as part of the show Locale with artists Peter Bobby and Matt White. The work uses sound recordings made during a walk taken around East London, the route of which passed the gallery and connected it to my home studio and working space. A continuous recording was made whilst walking this route, and this was then cut up and edited relating to the memorability of events from the walk. The sound was combined into four ‘routes’ for the walk involving more and less memorable experiences. These ‘routes’ were combined and played back in various combinations, inside and outside the gallery, on headphones and speakers, emitting sounds back into the environment from which the sounds originally came, and combining with incidental sound happening inside and outside the gallery. The work touches on ideas relating to memory and the lasting impressions of events, places, and experiences. It also highlights the impermanence of sound and explores issues relating to time, place, space and experience.
Extract from an Essay by Paul Kilsby which accompanied the exhibition:
Mika Sellens’ sonic installation Circular Walk 1, is, like White’s video, grounded in an actual experience in its genesis – specifically, a spontaneous and unplanned circular walk she undertook one evening from her studio which, by coincidence, included the locale of Unit 2. Just as White’s video revisits and reworks an actual observed experience, Sellens undertook once again that same journey, at the same time of day, following the same route, making the same stops. This time, however, she made a sound recording of the entire journey – the recording that in fact provided the raw material for this installation. But Sellens’ piece is by no means to be understood as a simple linear sonic reconstruction. Walking, thinking, noticing, remembering, responding, reflecting: a walk, even through a familiar locality, is, after all, a complex activity. For the walk – especially the repeated walk – calls to mind stirring phrases: ‘a sentimental journey’, perhaps, or ‘an act of pilgrimage’. Indeed cultural historians rarely allow the term ‘a walk’ the innocence it ostensibly offers and we might, at times, crave. From the elegant flâneurs on their peregrinations through the streets of European cities in the second half of the nineteenth century to the Surrealists’ pursuit of erotic chance encounters in the labyrinth of the city in the 1930s, walking through a city must, it seems, be understood as a complex cultural activity. As we walk, we are wholly immersed in a rich palette of sounds and at first this might seem to be incidental, as though we were walking microphones, mere passive receivers. However, psychoacoustics takes it as an axiom that the brain has the power to screen out a great deal of the sounds that the eardrum receives: our own subjectivity intercepts and regulates our perception. Famously, Rodchencko once said ‘we do not see what we are looking at’ and we might surmise, equally, that we do not listen to what we are hearing.
Sellens explores this discrepancy with sophistication in her repetition of her walk and uncovers the many differences that inevitably separate the second, repeated experience from the first. For we think of repetition as a familiar and powerful device to regulate and control our experiences (think of those dysfunctional repetitions that sufferers of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder endure). Chance, the incidental, the coincidental, the unanticipated, flux: those aspects of the city walk the Surrealists and the Situationists so relished seem inimical to repetition: one cannot, after all, repeat a spontaneous act, such as Sellens’ original walk. In Circular Walk 1, Sellens attempts to explore such structures of subjectivity in their fragile and touching relationship to memory and event. What we hear on the loudspeakers and headphones installed in the gallery are different combinations of different sections made from her original sound recording and the sequence of the sections heard in the exhibition is in fact determined by the random function of the CD players used for playback. Sellens’ process of editing is complex, based on selecting sounds as she progressed through the original recording from start to finish, her choices determined by, as she says, ‘the events or experiences which I could remember most readily, thinking back on the walk. When I got to the end (of the recording) I returned to the beginning, and moved through again, selecting the sound relating to the next events I could remember. Eventually the only audio left related to parts of the walk I couldn’t remember’. Her piece thus derives its essential momentum from her quest to discover a fresh hierarchy graded upon what she terms the ‘memorability’ of different experiences, any one of which may be linked to a correlative sound acting as a Proustian trigger. That rhyming linearity of time and the linearity of the walk – ‘the garrulous ribbon’ – is thus cut and braided in fresh permutations in her quest to revisit the experiences of the retaken walk and in turn recollect the experiences of the original walk. The cumulative effect finally generates a luid structure emphasising circularity over a linear trajectory. This Bergsonian flux of sound in effect offers the past as the present and this, too, has a spectral quality.
In addition to the loudspeakers and headphones in the gallery, other speakers will ‘return’ sound into the space outside the gallery, back into the locale of their origins, and of that original walk which was the genesis of the entire piece. Moreover, as John Cage would have been quick to point out, Sellens’ piece is further suffused with the present tense – with the actual, real-time, ambient noises of the gallery itself. Including, perhaps, the sound of your own walking through this gallery or the rustle of paper as you turn this guide in your hands..
Paul Kilsby, Royal College of Art, 2005
Text Panel accompanying the work:
Circular Walk 1: Hackney, City, and Thames, via Whitechapel.
Distance: 8 miles (13km)
Walking Time: 2.5 – 3 hours
Places and events, most easily remembered.
Places and events remembered after those in Route 1.
Other places and events which could be remembered given some time and thought.
Moments and places that couldn’t be remembered.
Places of Interest:
Victoria Park, York Hall, The Museum of Childhood, The Royal London Hospital, The East London Mosque, Whitechapel Gallery, Unit 2 Gallery, The Tower of London, Tower Bridge, The River Thames, London Bridge, Liverpool Street Station, Spitalfields Market, Brick Lane, Columbia Road, Hackney City Farm, Broadway Market, London Fields, Hackney Synagogue.
Map accompanying the work:
Photos of the work: