Air Matters: Learning from Heathrow

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

About this event

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.

Download the full programme

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. You will find a list of the commissions below.

Exhibition 3 October 2019 – 5 January 2020

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

Exhibition Workshops £5 each:

Sat 5 October, 2pm – Listening to Signals in the Air

Sat 12 & Sat 26 October, 2pm – Heathrow Sound Walks: Field recording under the flight path

Sat 19 October, 10am – Artworks for Birds. A Visual Arts Workshop for Educators

Air Matters Syposium: Politics of Air – Sat 9 November, 10am – 5pm

The Commissions:

Kate Carr Ascending Composition 1 (For planes)

Mixed media, 2019

The airspace surrounding Heathrow is partitioned both vertically and horizontally. Ascending Composition 1 (For planes) seeks to reflect on the governance of this space by using sound to infiltrate its forbidden zones. Working with the conception of the air as a contested space, this art work inverts the relationship of residents subject to the vagaries of aircraft noise by using helium balloons and kite tail sound systems to take the terrestrial sounds of Heathrow’s neighbourhoods into the sky. The three kite tail sound systems shuffle through recordings taken in residential and natural areas surrounding the airport, creating a shifting soundscape intended for broadcast along the flight path. In a world where both who gets to make noise and enjoy silence is so tied to wealth and corporate influence, this work seeks to carve out a moment where forgotten, over-powered and fragile sounds take flight. The composition is broadcast via the balloon-elevated kite tails in Watermans gallery.

Nick Ferguson Capsule

Capsule is a 0.7 scale model of an aircraft landing gear compartment accompanied by a set of photographic prints. Suspended from the ceiling and occupying a central part of the gallery, the model is proposed as an auditorium/immersive space which evokes the original, that of a Boeing 777 aircraft. The prints show samples of material gathered forensically from a wheel bay of Ethiad Airways Boeing 777-200LR A6-LRC upon retirement in March 2019. Captured under an electron microscope, the sample includes sand, spores, seeds, bacteria and fragments of reflective runway paint which have become trapped and transported from one part of the world to another. More information on this work is available here

Magz Hall. Skyport

Mixed media, 2019

Skyport takes its name from the pirate radio station Skyport Radio which broadcast from a garden shed under the Heathrow flight path between 1971 and 1979. The commission extends the artist’s enquiry into the contested nature of radio frequencies and their governance. In the skies above London private transmissions from air traffic control compete for wavelength with a range of public transmissions, both pirate and licensed, and indeed, the AM spectrum is dominated by the airport’s transmissions. While these transmissions are available for all to hear, in the UK it is both illegal to listen to them and to relay what has been heard to a third party. In defiance of these regulations, aviation enthusiasts eavesdrop on air traffic control and there is a burgeoning market for the scanning technologies that make this possible. On display for Skyport is a set of scanners and a plasma screen showing in wave form current air traffic radio activity. A blog for the project research can be found HERE 

Matthew Flintham Heathrow (Volumetric Airspace Structures)

Mixed media, 2019

Heathrow (Volumetric Airspace Structures) is a planning table showing a map of the Greater London area and focused on the land surrounding Heathrow. The shape of the table is 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 shows the major traffic routes across central and west London, as well as the polygonal restricted and controlled airspace zone over Heathrow. The map also extends 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 The Substitute

Mixed media, 2019

The Substitute is 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, The Substitute explores the spectral transformation of birds as we know them into data bodies and zombie-like decoys.

Louise K Wilson Frequency

Mixed media, 2019

Frequency is a multi-channel audio installation accompanied by a set of drawings. Voice and field recordings are combined to explore the affective and ‘felt’ experience of air travel. Verbal accounts from passengers describing emotions (primarily those) experienced just after take-off and landing are undercut with a layer of location (field) recordings.  Both have been recorded and rendered into an ASMR (‘autonomous sensory meridian response’) register (ASMR recordings are typically created with the intention of stimulating a tingling and relaxing sensation). Elsewhere, recordings of the sonic fallout collected from the Airport provide a ‘darker’ background for the presence and effect of aviation. The material for the accompanying postcard drawings has been sourced from photographs distributed on social media showing passengers’ window views of clouds. Overall, Frequency points to a set of contradictory positions concerning our desire for air travel

Image showns 

1. Main image – Image 11. NF Kate Carr

2. Image Fig 17 credit Nick Ferguson

3. Herimonie Spriggs and Laura Cooper 2019. The Substitute

4. Nick Ferguson. 2019. Capsule. Digital Drawing Tommy Haycocks

5. Nick Ferguson. 2019. Capsule

The exhibition will be accompanied by a series of workshops on Saturdays in October – see above and a symposium on Saturday 9 November Read symposium programme

Booking now for the Air Matters Symposium: The Art of Politics 

Book Your Tickets


Click here to find full details for those with access requirements.

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