Since we started working on Air Pressure – and Rupert reminded me tonight that our very first exchanges began with emails that he had sent from an internet café in Rabat, Morocco – we had in mind a box. A box in a gallery that would somehow contain the experience of living in the farm in Toho that was almost engulfed by the vast expanse of the airport and, most importantly, by its noise. This notion of a box has retained its currency throughout the 18 months we have devoted to the project – we thought of it before I had even been to the site and we thought of it while we were standing next to each other looking south out of the upper window of the Egg House. We proposed it to our eventual funders the Wellcome Trust and we offered it as an idea for an installation to the Whitworth Gallery.
The box has been through many iterations. At first, I was keen to appropriate an actual farm building and import it back to the UK. As this aspiration became impractical, we thought of how the exterior of the box might nonetheless allude to the textures of the weathered but maintained materials that distinguish the Shimamura’s farm buildings or, at the very least, to the shapes of their structures. As we began to realise that the box’s contents were themselves becoming richer and more intricate, the opposite inclination emerged – to reduce and simplify the box towards more manageable proportions and a more neutral disposition.
As spring swung toward summer and as summer shortened into autumn, decisions about the box’s scale and decisions about the box’s character became the concrete stuff of commissioning designers and builders, choosing colours and dimensions, access and egress, screen size and speaker placement. Graham at The Workhaus became responsible for managing the translation of our ideas into something that could simultaneously exist harmoniously with the gallery space itself, could accommodate the visitors’ bodies in some kind of comfort and could provide a platform for the projectors, screens, speakers, amps and cables that we needed to deliver the audio-visual dimension but which we wanted to be as invisible as possible. Sarah and Alex at ADi negotiated the best technical answers to our aesthetic and conceptual questions and Luke at the Whitworth was the one who helped us to properly understand the available parameters – providing, by way of example, a 3D model of the proposed space that suddenly snapped into focus what had remained – to us – blurry in the 2D plans.
At one point we described the box as a “stress laboratory”, an architectural opportunity for a vicarious insight into the Shimamuras’ daily lives. For reasons I have discussed in earlier posts, the installation cannot quite be that. The box cannot fully embrace that ambition because, primarily, it can only house a temporary slice of a lived experience that extends beyond the days and weeks into the years and decades. Nevertheless, in working with each other, with The Workhaus and ADi, and with the Whitworth Gallery, we have tried to enable the box to deliver as much of what we feel is the sensory reality of the island farm as possible.