Air Matters: Learning from Heathrow

Running Time: 3 October 2019 - 5 January 2020, daily
Price: Free Event

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About this event

Exhibition 3 October 2019 – 5 January 2020

Public opening 9 October 6:30 (with the curator, artists and drinks)

Air Matters: Learning from Heathrow is an exhibition and programme of events that explores the politics of air. Focusing on the neighbourhood of Heathrow, it seeks to engage with the air’s materiality, occupation, and contestation, as well as with the potential and limitations of representing these themes by means of art.

For some, the air is a hyper-modern space of networks and travel. For others, it is what they must breathe. Such diverse  requirements within a single neighbourhood creates a significant societal challenge that has implications for sustainable development, well-being, and human dignity.  Air Matters responds to this challenge with newly-commissioned artworks, walking tours, workshops and a symposium. It brings together artists, community groups, environmental scientists, industry professionals and scholars in order to connect diverse approaches and produce fresh thought. It is aimed at all those who have a stake in the neighbourhood’s environment and for whom art is a gateway to its discovery and transformation.

Air Matters is curated by Dr Nicholas Ferguson in partnership with Kingston School of Art and Richmond University.

The exhibition comprises six newly commissioned works.

The Commissions:

Kate CarrBalloon Orchestra

Working with the conception of the air as a contested space the artwork inverts the relationship of residents subject to the vagaries of aircraft noise by using weather balloons to take the stories and sounds of Heathrow’s residential communities into the sky. The stories are collated from interviews with communities about neighbourhood life, field recordings from the area, and the sonification of data from the airport: arrivals and departures in real time, weather data, daily noise complaints and Heathrow Holding’s share price. The audio material will form the basis of an audio work which will be broadcast in Watermans gallery from a weather balloon hoisted in the gallery.


Nick Ferguson Capsule

Capsule is a plywood model of a long-haul aircraft wheel-bay. Suspended from the gallery ceiling, the model serves as an auditorium for discussions and screenings. Accompanying the model is a report on the forensic microstratography of the wheel-bay of a Thai Airways Boeing 777. The relevance of this work stems from the wheel-bay’s role in global transfer. Wheel-bays function as capsules in which matter – soil, spores, seeds, and insects are transported from one country to another. In the case of planes which travel from developing countries to the UK, they are enclaves in which stowaways hide and, as landing gear is opened in preparation for arrival, their frozen bodies fall into the airport’s leafy suburbs. This work is developed with the support of Air Salvage International and in partnership with Kingston University Earth Sciences.


Louise K Wilson Untitled

Untitled is a multi-channel audio installation with visual elements (drawing). Voice and field recordings are combined in a composition that explores the affective and ‘felt’ experience of air travel. It will be prompted by verbal accounts from passengers describing emotions (primarily those) experienced just after take off and landing while in the airspace visible to Heathrow airport. These accounts (both collected verbally and from transcribed sources) will inform the productive of an ‘affective cartography’, sonifying lines of flight across airspace. Working in collaboration with a composer and choir, these will be transposed into a sung register. Sung voices will be undercut with a layer of location (field) recordings. This ‘deeper’ layer of sonic material consists of recordings collected by microphones that pick up vibrations from changes in air pressure and convert them into electrical signals that are made audible. These recordings of the sonic fallout collected from around Heathrow (underground, tangible in objects and so on) provide a ‘darker’ background for the presence and effect of aviation. The visual element will take the form of visual scores – originating from both the accounts and sound maps gathered in and around the airport.


Magz Hall Skyport

A radio art installation that explores Heathrow’s ongoing pirate radio legacy and the investigation work of NATS with OFCOM in keeping air flights safe from unwanted communication from wireless devices. The work is heard directly via 6 scanner radios, 3 tuned to current air traffic activity and 3 broadcasting a mix, It makes use of interviews with key contributors and sounds from current pirate radio and air traffic control. Archive recording from the original Skyport are also used in the mix. Dr Hall’s research blog for project can be found here.


Matthew Flintham Heathrow (Volumetric Airspace Structures)

A horizontal planning table showing a map of the Greater London area and focused on the land surrounding Heathrow. However, instead of a traditional square or rectangular table, the shape of the surface will be defined by the limits of the London airspace control zone which consists of two intersecting irregular rectangles combining rounded edges and hard corners. The map will not only show all the major traffic routes across central and west London, but also the polygonal restricted airspace zones and controlled airspace zone over Heathrow. The map will also extend vertically, projecting the airspace zones into three dimensions, revealing the invisible volumetric structures that define the London skies. In this way the structure becomes an extension of the map following its stylist design and iconography.


Hermione Spriggs and Laura Cooper Scarecrow B.I.R.D Bat

It’s a sci-fi ghost story responding to the “bird free” environment of Heathrow Airport. Narrated through the disembodied voice of Tannoy speakers common to airport announcements and sonic pest control, B.I.R.D Bat explores the spectral transformation of birds as we know them into data bodies and zombie-like decoys. The work comprises a film exploring the device in use at Heathrow along with other forms of futuristic bird control, including motion-capture footage of real birds and decoys at the Oxford University Flight Group laboratory, as well as an installation of sonic and material decoys.

Imge credit Nick Ferguson

The exhibition will be accompanied by a series of workshops on Saturdays in October and a symposium on Saturday 9  November. (More information and booking available soon.)


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