David Cunningham
The Difference Room and A position between two curves - notes on the development and siting of installations at Tate Britain for Days Like These, The Tate Triennial of Contemporary British Art, 27 Feb - 26 May 2003.

statements and notes

6 September 2002

Notes on an installation for a 9x9 module in the Tate 1979 extension:

Construct a ceiling on the space and use an air conditioning unit to heat the room to around 35/40C - must be noticeably hot but not ridiculous - try to avoid stuffiness or high humidity.   All surfaces should be white and if possible shiny.  Lighting should be bright but diffused. Entrance to the space should be as simple as possible, best not blocked off, exactly how to manage this needs to be researched, as does the precise means of venting the room from the air conditioning unit.

An air conditioning system operates on a system of feedback, a similar structure to The Listening Room work in  principle.  This is the possible beginning of an extension of my continuing investigation of feedback systems into areas outside the purely aural - into other conditions which are our environment, our existence.  In common with The Listening Room this work takes a component of the space or a component of the environment and amplifies it.

Besides the electro-mechanical thermostat feedback control, another level of feedback within the work is conceptual - there is no metaphor within the work - still this will inevitably be imposed by those who experience the work.  The work itself is wide open to viewer speculation of all kinds - some probably contradictory.  But there is no metaphor, in some ways the work is an act against metaphor.  In that sense also it is consistent with my earlier work. 

Many years ago my work put forward conditions which moderated a space - smell, sound or other factors moderating a space.  One of the few documentations of this work appears in Hayley Newman's 'Connotations' p58-9 (Matts Gallery 2001), - the fictional work presented as 'Bass in a Space' is based on an actual installation made sometime around 1974/5.  Another relationship with work such as 'this moment' (1991) is the self-referential definition of the situation.

With the (at time of writing, untitled) hot room, temperature is introduced into this canon of conditions - notoriously difficult to control although fairly simplistic in principle.

This is a work for this specific location, a place where temperature and other situational and environmental factors are rigorously controlled.


Working Principles re the sound installations (notes in progress)

An absolute principle of this body of work is that the visible space must be the same as the acoustic space which the work will explore.  Eye and ear and brain.  And on a human scale. 

What the work has to achieve is to shift the focus of the viewer towards the soundscape without imposition - whether through volume or other factors - that's why I use 'empty' spaces.

A related factor - bypassing the primacy of the visual.  Objects within the space make my subtle efforts invisible in the sense that although the work is still audible the focus of the viewer is distracted.

There is no metaphor within the work.

The 'hot' space - the significant factor is not a precisely defined temperature but the difference between inside and outside.

Selected emails re: exploration of the Tate for possible sites for a sound installation in the family of 'The Listening Room' -  ideas for an outside installation in the Clore garden (abandoned) - the 'hot room' (not the final title) - discussion of an installation at the Manton entrance.

2aug02  to Jonathan Watkins, curator

Hi Jonathan

Good to to see you on Tuesday.  I'm still undecided how to proceed.  My initial idea has to shift.  The problem with the 9x9 cube is that a consistent principle of this body of work is that the visible space must be the same as the acoustic space which the work will explore.  Eye and ear and brain.  And no matter how I can envisage constructing the installation, I can't see how to do that with the 9x9 structures or Freudspace.

Well I can but it would be high frequency sound and that's not really a coherent part of the human vocabulary.  Dolphinspeak, or in less friendly way, rats.  There are ways round this and following your reminder of the box piece I've spent a very silly day playing around with small scale maquette variants.  Many funny noises but nothing conceptually solid yet.

Can you remember if Mike Nelson used a basement space?.  Maybe it wasn't really a basement (false memory syndrome), just felt like it.  It it exists at least it should have solid walls.  Whether there's space available or useable there is another matter.  And I don't like the fact that for many it will forever be associated with Mike Nelson but maybe I can change that association.  Will ask Ben.

I had a sense from you that you wanted the exhibition to overflow the cubes and escape into and perhaps outside the whole building.  Ben and Carolyn seemed extremely reserved about such a prospect, but it's an attitude that very much appeals to me.  Various alternative ideas in my notebook from Tuesday are possibilities in that direction.  And any further guidance on your idea of the overall feel of the exhibition and use of the space will be appreciated.

An observation - a difference between this situation and (for instance) Chisenhale - you had limited resources but absolute control - possibilities could be resolved and acommodated immediately.  Here the chain of command is curious - looks like you're finding out as much about the possibilities of the Tate as I am.


6sep02  to Jonathan Watkins, curator  [extract]
Hi Jonathan

slight revision - this is what I'll send to the Tate.  I'm mostly at home most today if you want to talk further - size matters and shape is quite important.  Main concern for me is the people flow - Tate has crowds and I actually breathed a sigh of relief when I decided a Listening Room was impossible there because of the difficulty with the setting up to cope with empty space/full space (the opening problem).

I thought about using the Clore Garden as well (I'm fond of that space) quite a lot as an option and discussed it with Ben - it will seem quite different in February - Ben says it's usually deserted at that time of year.  Would be nice to do something but I'll need to go and look again.

[followed by Notes on an installation for a module in the Tate 1979 extension]


9sep02  to Carolyn Kerr, Tate curator
Hi Carolyn

'hot room' feasibility - my priorities are with this piece are such that consultation with technical staff would also be helpful to me to make it manageable and probably keep costs down - for instance the temperature will naturally fluctuate as people move in and out of the space - a precise constant temperature is not important, the significant factor is the difference between inside and outside.  Main problems and costs are likely with where to run the venting.  As it's within the 1979 extension I'm assuming that it's not going to interfere with the general temperature/humidity control in the rest of the galleries.

Clore Garden -
The work is likely to involve placing source microphones somewhere in the location and having an intermittent pattern of reamplification placed at different points around the space.  So that you may get invisible pigeons, traffic, the voices of distant people appearing and disappearing.  And at some places an audible delay (sound travels slower in air than down a wire).  Placement of mics etc is crucial.

>not too loud to be disruptive< - Don't worry, in my earlier discussion with Ben I indicated that this kind of intrusion is exactly what I want avoid.  Hence the general problems I faced inside the galleries.  I don't think there will be a problem with power cables - all mains voltage stuff can be housed inside, running long speaker and microphone cables outside.  Is there somewhere suitable for this nearby with cable access to the outside?  I'll investigate weatherproofing speaker housings but I can see a problem with microphones and damp/humidity.  Again a tech consultation will be useful.

I'm not sure about sharing that space with Richard [Deacon]:
a) he might not want to
b) the primacy of the visual - the main thing I have to achieve with this work is to shift the focus of the viewer towards the soundscape without imposing through volume - that's why I use 'empty' spaces.  Richard's work could make my subtle efforts invisible in the sense that although the work is still audible the focus of the viewer is distracted.


13sep02  to Jonathan Watkins, curator  [extract]
Hi Jonathan

Good meeting with Tate today, everyone positive and constructive - pinning down how the hot room could be made to work.  We have a practical solution to all potential problems including location but all depends on the costings on the air conditioning.

The very good news is that the Manton St entrance has two alcoves which are suitable for an installation in the Listening Room family.  Cable runs in and out of the space are the only problem so they're looking at the building plans for access points.


16sep02   to Carolyn Kerr, Tate curator  [extract]
Hi Carolyn

Thanks for a very positive and constructive meeting on Friday, I really appreciate the supportive attitude of everyone involved that enabled so many practical problems to be solved.  Let's hope the costings are acceptable.

Thank you for pointing me towards the Manton entrance.  Prior to testing I can't be sure exactly what will be the optimum configuration of equipment and available space.  The difference between this and previous installations is that the two curved surfaces at each side of the entrance area will act something like parabolic reflectors, creating a narrow focussed zone where the sound of the space becomes hyper-real.  (I will try to think of a better way of expressing this).

The particular characteristics of this space that I want to explore could require something more directional than the mics I usually use so I'll try various types.  This is likely to improve the system's overall resistance to damp.


18sep02   to Carolyn Kerr, Tate curator  [extract]

Hi Carolyn

After you introduced me to the Manton entrance I abandoned the Clore Garden idea.  The garden, considered as an overall soundspace, is much bigger than I remembered and cable runs and microphone coverage would make it difficult to create anything manageable.  Plus the dominant soundscape is continuous traffic, difficult to achieve anything subtle against that.  It would tend to have to be very complex to even begin to work at all and that goes against the grain of my general aesthetic.  Last time I did something like this it involved 25 speakers and computer control.  One of the main problems with this body of work is trying to keep the scale, volume and complexity at a level which creates a coherent individual experience.  Less is more.

Any costings on the air conditioning yet?

(this idea was abandoned when a costing around 18000 eventually appeared)

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A position between two curves
Activated Space