Saturday, 7 May 2016

Book noise and a suicidal entomologist: Senate House Library

I get The Fear when Hannah Thompson describes how she makes soundscapes out of the general racket in Senate House. It's too much like O-Level physics.

At school I switched to physics-with-chemistry, a pantomime-horse subject for people with soft-boiled science brains. I ended up at the sort of college which tolerates women who read without noticing that the porridge is boiling over.

Today Hannah works ferociously in her studio in Senate House. She is the Leverhulme-funded sound artist in residence, recording upheaval in the life of the building as London University institutions move around the Monopoly board.

Hannah is preparing for a performance on 2 June. She's scouting for a violinist to join her in the Bach Double. Contact her if you think you're hard enough.

She is also creating a soundtrack for the exhibition of Senate House Library treasures, Shakespeare: Metamorphosis. Around the building, staff members' recordings of Shakespeare gobbets are set off by movement sensors in Pound Shop plastic boxes customised with a soldering iron.

Outside Hannah's studio is an installation by Tom Phillips, The Library at Elsinore. The painted-over books - real ones with titles from Hamlet - compete with the cacophany of signage.

 This is how it was displayed at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 2007 (below):

In 2008 it was exhibited by the Laurence Sterne Trust at Shandy Hall, North Yorkshire. Where next?

I go home on a sweltering Heatherwick Routemaster, which rhymes with design disaster, reading The Journal of a Disappointed Man by W. N. P. Barbellion.

He describes the almost-sound that Hannah's instruments can't capture: 'The Porter spends his days in the Library keeping strict vigil over this catacomb of books, passing along between the shelves and yet never paying heed to the almost audible susurrus of desire - the desire every book has to be taken down and read, to live, to come into being in somebody's mind. He even hands the volumes over the counter, seeks them out in their proper places or returns them there without once realising that a Book is a Person and not a Thing. It makes me shudder to think of Lamb's Essays being carted about as if they were fardels.'

Fardels, a word from Hamlet. Later in the journal: 'The best girl in the best dress immediately looks disreputable if her stockings be downgyved.' Hamlet again. The current of words, the ocean of association.

For details please see Senate House Library and School of Advanced Study websites. Earlier blog posts here.

I have a small exhibition in Senate House under the auspices of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies starting in June. No sound but enough rope.

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