Bright Lights and Soft Shadows

Bright Lights and Soft Shadows: ethical practices of artifice and authenticity in the use of field recordings in a documentary art context
Angus Carlyle

My paper will focus on an ongoing research project which centres on a farm that is surrounded on all four immediate sides by the complex of Narita International Airport, Japan. The farm is an organic small-holding with fields of fruit and vegetables, pens of pigs and a barn with egg-laying hens. The farm is one of only two that remain from the 360 families who settled to cultivate what was once forest in the aftermath of the Second World War: the other families having been driven out when the Japanese Government requisitioned the land, an action which provoked prolonged and bitter protest. The research – conducted in collaboration with an anthropologist, a health scientist and an environmental scientist – will culminate in an ‘installed documentary’ at the Whitworth Museum in Manchester.

In two of my previous projects that relied extensively on field-recordings – 51° 32 ‘ 6.954” N / 0° 00 ‘ 47.0808” W (2008) and Some Memories of Bamboo (2009) – the work unfolded in relatively predictable stages of listening, recording, sequencing and then presenting, with choices for the most part being resolved according to aesthetic criteria. With this new project, “Air Pressure”, the question of ethics weighs at least as heavily as that of aesthetics.

Late in the reaches of Michel Foucault’s work, he began to sketch out a system of ethics that was conceptually alert to notions of constraints and limits but was simultaneously animated by a practical curiosity towards crossing those very limits (franchissement); that found a place between normative injunctions – whether sent down from above or argued up from below – and individual choices. I will deploy Foucault’s inchoate notion of “ethical practice” as a frame for the dilemmas faced in “Air Pressure” and relate them to the representation of others; to revealing or concealing the artist’s presence; to a kind of topographic truthfulness and to a parallel to commitment to acoustic accuracy; to the balance, ultimately, between the responsibilities of authenticity and the allure of artifice.

Angus Carlyle is Joint-Director of CRiSAP (Creative Research in to Sound Arts Practice) at the University of the Arts, London. His exploration of sound in artistic contexts has included editing the book “Autumn Leaves”, exhibiting at various galleries, appearing on CDs and performing as well as co-curating the Sound Escapes show at Space in London in the summer of 2009. He is currently working on an ‘installed documentary’ for the Whitworth Gallery, Manchester.

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