Arriving at The Whitworth Art Gallery on Wednesday afternoon was a slightly overwhelming experience. In the context of the journey we have undertaken to get here – detailed in the previous 31 posts – this feeling was, in a sense, an entirely appropriate one. On seeing ‘the box’ for the first time, I thought how securely it inhabited the gallery space, how the colour chosen for its external walls allowed it to enter into a compelling relationship both with the earth that is the predominant colour of the farm and the varnished wooden slats that grid the mezzanine’s ceiling.
Looking closely at the representation of Kaori-san’s graphic illustration for Air Pressure there was a strong dynamic between the smooth solidity of the typographic background and the rougher, more visibly human, rendering of the jet and vegetables.
This dynamic extended a quality that was already latent in the original illustration – which was actually created entirely digitally, with the apparent shifts in brush size and brush pressure being technical artefacts achieved through software manipulation – but the overall register has been transferred slightly to find the vegetable, animal and human life of the farm occupying the same pictorial plane as the aircraft. That the real brush strokes that the visitors will see on the box were created by our collaborator Professor Hiramatsu only amplifies the aptness of this impression.
David Morris and Luke Lovelock at the Whitworth had worked hard to light the installation. The box appears to glow out of a graded penumbra that sinks about its edges, with soft spotlights and recessed bulbs illuminating specific features, such as Kaori-san’s graphic, the interpretative panels and the entrance with its ‘noren’ curtain. I think that the result more than rewards those efforts since the installation now radiates the impression of something resolved out of the murk, of shadows shifting into shapes.
Yet the exterior lighting manages also to avoid an easy equation of light with illumination or, conversely, darkness with obscurity. That such formulae of ‘enlightenment’ are eschewed, works not just because as a result certain conceptual pitfalls can be safely navigated but, more practically, because once through the antechamber held between the noren and a sheet of blackout curtain, the audience finds darkness once more in the interior. Darkness not just in the intervals between projected sequences – which, like in the first soundfilm, are deployed as points of narrative inhalation and exhalation, of breath caught as things change – but also darkness in the materials of the installation (the black carpets, the black walls) and darkness in some of what is seen on screen.
Over the years I have built up a protective resistance against the slightest suggestion of any infectious delight in my creative endeavours. But sitting in the Air Pressure installation, as all the cables and intricate boxes that might otherwise intrude retreat their way into invisibility and inaudibility and I am left with only the immersive sensation of the sounds and the images and their interplay, even I have to admit that there might well be something quite special here. In the movements between darkness and colour, between sound and silence, any perceived faults with the work recede and what is left, for me at least, is a feeling of this collaborative enterprise itself – from Rupert, Professor Hiramatsu and myself, through Kaori-san, Asako-san and Hayashi-san and on to those here at the Whitworth who have committed their imagination and expertise. A feeling that this collective effort by all those involved might actually measure up to the inspiration of the farmers far away in what remains of Toho hamlet, right there in the centre of Narita International Airport.