picture gallery lyrics
a Sound and Light Installation
Hussein Mitha and Susannah Stark
Coloured light filters have been patterned onto the windows throughout Hospitalfield House transforming its nineteenth century interiors into a makeshift modernist glasshouse. Songs, sounds, stories, injunctions, choruses punctuate the space - celebrations of colour in life and paeans to midsummer light. Immersive colours provide affective sites for listening and contemplation within the house.
The artists developed this work responding to various paintings, details and objects at Hospitalfield house: The Trial of Effie Dean; a nineteenth century painting (depicting a scene from The Heart of Mid-Lothian by Sir Walter Scott) a famous portrait of Isaac Newton at his desk illuminated by a coloured lamp; and a Belgian tapestry depicting a love lorn figure drowned in the river, watched over by three nymphs. The artists explored ideas of authenticity, instability and representation through narratives that they constructed together in response to time spent at Hospitalfield. The resulting texts and songs explore the influence of western enlightenment thinkers on scientific reasoning, and how this has contributed to histories of gender, sexuality and racialised oppression.
In the drawing room, song lyrics incorporate a list of ingredients used in makeup and beauty therapies since the 17th century. The song '42 ingredients to defy father time' explores the art of contouring and use of makeup through the ages as it developed regardless of expectations for feminine beauty under patriarchy and capitalism; in particular, the song points out the double standards of the term ‘natural beauty’; an image popularised by moralists around the time when Isaac Newton was appointed head of the Royal Mint in London (1699). Lyrics are accompanied by a harpsichord interpretation of a 17th century 'Ricercar' for lute, a popular form in which one or more themes are developed through melodic imitation and repeat throughout the song in a looping cycle.
The anteroom contains a reading of Maria Schindler’s writings on colour following Goethe’s Romantic critique of Newton’s enlightenment conception of colour, as well as clauses from the modernist polymath Paul Scheerbart’s utopian manifesto, in which he summoned a new kind of architecture to be created with coloured glass.
In the picture gallery, visitors are invited to sit in a courtroom style seating arrangement, bathed in blood red light, to hear a fictional trial of Isaac Newton, written and compiled by Hussein Mitha. This work is made up of citations from various sources, countering popular narratives surrounding Newton’s genius, with voices detailing his complicity with emergent capitalism and colonialism; including his interest and involvement in the occult.
Newton’s experiments with colour and 'rationalisation of the rainbow' detailed in his work ‘Opticks’ (1704) also informed the concept of this work. A fragmented, acidic rainbow broken into shards occupies Hospitalfield's hallway skylight.
The cedar room, flooded with warm yellow light, contains Susannah Stark's rewriting and transposition into song of William Blake’s poem ‘To Summer’. The lyrics are adapted to describe the changing environment, infusing the song with an underlying unsettling element.
The audio loop here is an important device to create non-linear narratives throughout the work. Voice samples used in acid house music made during the second summer of love (1988-89) provide the backdrop to spoken dialogues and monologues. This defiantly hedonistic music haunts the rooms creating a sense of disorientation, referring to spaces and times of resistance far from the bourgeoisie interior of the rooms at Hospitalfield. Voices, heard often in dialogue with themselves in individual rooms, speak as if to an audience through walls and doorways. Their painful separation with one another is cast in the bright possibility of an imminent reconnection.
Voices: Déas McMorrow, Saira Edwards, शून्यता, Sekai Machache, Emalia Mattia, Gabriele Longega, Susannah Stark
Song Lyrics and Texts: Hussein Mitha and Susannah Stark
Sound Recording: Adam Lewis Jacob
Supported by Hospitalfield and The Elephant Trust
Installation Photos by Erika Stevenson