VIRTUAL MATTER [AMBIENT]
11.02.22 - 27.03.22
Belfast-based artist Helena Hamilton works both visually and sonically. Her practice crosses the lines between creating objects, sound, digital interaction, and action/performance. For Virtual Matter [Ambient], Hamilton has created a new virtual space, conceived from the last drawing she made before becoming a mother at the start of the first COVID-19 lockdown in April 2020. The original 2D drawing is part of a larger series of machine drawings which explore minimal structure and form. Hamilton built upon this concept when revisiting this work virtually, exploring sound, materiality, movement, and scale. Questions that were interrogated whilst creating the work for this exhibition include: What is the soundscape of a clean, virtual, immaterial world? How does one’s sense of the ‘real’, so steeped in physical materiality, translate into the virtual? And, how can the virtual be sensed and experienced in the ‘real’?
The basis of the exhibition is the exploration of a virtual space which has been birthed via a short computational ‘happening’ – an ambient explosion which utilises physics and mathematical programming based on real world data. This ‘happening’ has been rendered as an animation and can be viewed online. Visitors can choose to view this animation prior to seeing the show, after, or during. They can even choose not to view the video at all, and simply enjoy being in the physical space. Hamilton leaves this decision in their hands.
In this animation, the metamorphosis of the central yellow object is fast but gentle, changing its properties and materials through self-destruction. The object is momentarily recognisable before the wind and turbulence separate the fragments. Its weight appears to be lighter, and its properties softer and more flexible than before. Fragments are suspended in the surrounding animated shapes, lights, and trees before gravity is initiated, wind and turbulence are switched off, and they fall to the ground.
Hamilton has used the physical space in the gallery to explore different aspects of bringing virtual objects and atmosphere into ‘real life’. Light from the virtual has been represented in the physical and reconstructed in the exhibition space. This marks a turn from how Hamilton has used light in past work – creating interactive sound sculptures from multiple off-the-shelf neon battens. The light present in this show is sculpted, and Hamilton has specifically chosen to not amplify and manipulate the sound resonating from them, ‘sounding’ as they are. The yellow screens cast an ambient glow in the surrounding physical space, and as they gradually fade to white it withdraws.
Throughout this whole process, Hamilton has used sound to bring a materiality to the virtual, digitally manipulating field recordings and sounds sourced from her everyday environment. Some have been manipulated more than others, Hamilton wanting to create moments of sound experiences that are familiar yet isolated and dislocated from their original physical source (a theme repeated in the use of hyperreal, identical trees in the virtual space). This soundscape is the result of an experimental process of sound composition, using sound to make sense of the virtual, always creating from something rather than towards some virtual ideal. Virtual Matter [Ambient] is a dialogue between the virtual and physical, casting an ambient tint of an evolving soundscape of the unreal, bleeding into every corner of the physical exhibition space.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Hamilton has previously exhibited and performed in both gallery spaces and contemporary music/sound festivals across the UK and Ireland, in addition to Berlin, Rome, Tokyo, and New York. Recent solo exhibitions include Perceptions, The Agency Gallery, London (2020); Semblance and Event, Millennium Court Arts Centre, Portadown, and The Agency Gallery, London (2018). Group exhibitions include Dissolving Histories: New Narratives, Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast,. (2018/2019); LUX, Solstice Arts Centre, Navan, Ireland. (2018).
Composed sound works for film include Parenting in the Pandemic: Pandemonium, Dance Film, BBC iPlayer (2021); and Epilogue, Dance Film, Belfast International Arts Festival (2021), and showcases include Digital Design Weekend, Victoria and Albert Museum, London (2017). Artist residencies include Art Centre Ongoing, Tokyo, Japan (2016); and Goldsmiths University of London, EAVI Group (2015).