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10 July 2008
When Dante envisioned "a high tower…that hardly could the eye attain it" in his Inferno, he probably wasn’t thinking of the School of Psychology. But now the School has recreated the world of the Inferno with a striking new art installation in its foyer, using sound and vision to ask questions about the way we perceive language.
The work is the second in the School’s MindArt series of collaborations between academic and artists, expressing psychological concepts in artistic form. The first was Peter Randall-Page, whose Mind’s Eye sculpture plays with the brain’s methods of visual perception, and is on permanent display outside the school.
Now Richard Bowers, a Cardiff-based artist who specialises in sonic art, has created Marginalia, in association with School members. Richard recorded words, phrases and fragments of words from the Inferno. These are then transformed in a variety of semi-random methods – speeded up, slowed down, scrambled – so they are at times unrecognisable as speech. The sounds are played through an array of loudspeakers in the School’s foyer, bringing to the listener’s mind the distinction between the civilising quality of language and the primal sounds of nature. (listen to Marginalia)
Richard worked with two specialists at the School on the psychology of language, Dr Todd Bailey and postgraduate student Joel Burton. They advised him on what we know about how we connect the sounds of words to their meaning. A microphone in the foyer picks up on ambient sound levels, and adapts the broadcast sound to reflect the number of people in the area. Richard worked very closely with the School’s IT staff on this, particularly Dave Miller and Val Pearce.
The sounds are supported by large visual installations, which fragment and rework illustrations of the Inferno, combining them and connecting them to extracts of the text. Richard describes the larger installation as "…almost a tapestry, but also a feeling of a film being exploded," while the two smaller creations express the idea of a flowering of poetry.
The work has been a year in the making and was supported by a grant from the Welsh Arts Council.
Head of the School of Psychology, Professor Dylan Jones said: "Certainly the nature of the work has changed from Mind’s Eye, but both projects have common principles: giving expression to the scientific work of the School in artistic form. We’ve not decided yet upon the next project, there are indications that it might be a musical work, but it’s early days yet!"
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Audio: An extract from the unearthly and unsettling Marginalia sounds
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