"Leicester itself has an unrequited beauty about it, and I have got to know the architecture and green spaces which make the city a lot better in lockdown"
What do you do?
I’m an artist working in a variety of media, and for the past year or so I have been focusing on illustration and animation. My personal practice mostly revolves around sound and our relationship with it. Sound art, for short, but some find this a contentious term! I find my artistic identity difficult to define, as I’ve never quite felt like a visual artist or a musician, but somewhere in-between both.
Nevertheless, it’s a happy place to be, albeit confusing to explain to people when they ask. As a lot of my work involves sound installations in public spaces, sadly it hasn’t been possible to exhibit recently, however, I’m extremely grateful to have had other exciting projects to keep me busy - especially during times where there wasn’t much to do, but work!
How did you get to where you are?
I grew up locally in a very musical family, but as the youngest, I felt drawn to go in a different direction and focused mainly on art growing up. I ended up taking a slightly different route due to unexpectedly leaving school at 16. Instead of doing A-levels, I did a part-time online foundation course in art & design via the Interactive Design Institute. At the same time I began working at Sheehan’s Music on London Road, which is when I began to properly get to know and love the city, especially some of the wonderful individuals that make up Leicester’s music scene. Somehow, I managed to skip years of education whilst gaining lots of work experience, and then ended up going to study Fine Art at The University of Lincoln in 2013. Both Lincoln and Sheehan’s were places filled with brilliant artists and musicians who guided me in my early 20s, and shaped who I am now. After leaving university in 2016, I took part in EM16 (a graduate residency at Surface Gallery in Nottingham) which was my first exhibition outside of Lincoln. Since then, I have had solo exhibitions at Phoenix in 2018 and All Saints’ Church in 2019, for Journeys Festival International.
Retrospectively, I feel extremely fortunate to have had those years out between school & university, as it allowed me to start exploring future career paths whilst also enabling me to indulge my curiosity and build up skills in areas I am passionate about. If I could speak to my younger self, I would say that it does get a lot better after leaving the pressures of school behind — I felt that the odds were stacked against me when I was younger, as I’m sure many of us do. From my experience, there is so much emphasis on one particular fixed path in order to ‘succeed’ academically, but nowhere near enough attention is given to how to grow as a person independently, or gain the tools to unlock that independence. I was able to turn (a lot of) absence from school into an opportunity to learn things on my own, and I have no idea where I would be now if I didn’t have that experience!
Why do you love what you do?
When I’ve reflected on this, I often think about how much my parents’ careers have influenced me. Both are musicians, and between them they have worked in areas ranging from performance, teaching, and composition to music therapy and instrument making. I don’t think they ever set out to do the same thing forever, but they knew that music underpinned it all. For me, art & music informs everything I do, and there’s an endless list of different things to explore, so I never get bored!
If I had to sum up my practice, it would be that art is my medium, but music is my subject. I’m continually seeking to understand where the boundaries are between sound & music, and how that definition differs for each of us. Why is it that for some people, certain songs are a ‘complete racket’, and yet for others they resonate so profoundly? Is birdsong defined as music or noise? How do sound waves interact with each other at certain frequencies, and how does this affect how we regard them aesthetically? How do certain harmonies or rhythms reflect different emotional states? I could keep going, but it is often questions like these that act as a starting point for my work.
In addition, I often employ chance operations or indeterminacy in my installations, allowing me to be less of a composer and more of a curator (or even an audience member). I love to set up installations that continuously change, and could be on for days without a single second exactly the same. This results in (mostly) moments of dissonance as well as harmony, but it’s the relationship and definition of these that I am most interested in. By throwing the dice, it allows me to reflect on the results more than if I took control and made decisions based solely on my own aesthetic preferences of sound. The perk of all this is that if a listener has strong feelings and hates how it sounds, I don’t take offence as it proves my hypothesis, so it’s a win-win!
Sheehan’s Music was a brilliant place as it properly introduced me to the city, and it was pretty heart-breaking when it closed in 2017. It wasn’t ‘just a shop’, but a great little hub to connect with local musicians. I think it is environments like these that we have all missed recently, and which seem to have become a bit of an endangered species, even in the lead up to 2020. The pessimist in me feels like the past year has doubled down our use of technology, and that we’ve already forgotten how to socialise and create networks in person. But the optimist hopes that in a post-pandemic society, we realise how much we took those places for granted before, and fight harder to preserve them.
Leicester itself has an unrequited beauty about it, and I have got to know the architecture and green spaces which make the city a lot better in lockdown. I love discovering little variations between Victorian terraces, and how different roads link up with each other near my new home in the West End. I’m extremely fond of walking out my front door, walking down the road into town, and hearing conversations in multiple languages along the way. There’s something about being in a city which grounds you, as you pass so many different kinds of people in a single journey. The sadness is that though I’ve got closer to the city spatially, I’ve definitely grown apart from it socially. I’m hoping that the next year will bring more and more arts events and opportunities to get back in touch with people again and give me a reason to stop being a hermit!
Earlier this year I had the pleasure of working with Josh Semans on a project called the Culture Delivery Service, for Graffio Arts in Loughborough. The CDS is an innovative way of getting an art experience sent directly to your door, using augmented reality. Snapshots of our project & the work of two exceptional local artists (Alison Carpenter-Hughes & Thierry Miquel) were delivered to over 15,000 homes in Loughborough. These free prints included instructions that the recipients can use to download a free smartphone app, enabling them to view an AR experience of the chosen artists’ work via their device. Through the Cultural Delivery Service, Graffio Arts are aiming to tackle some of the barriers that can prevent audiences and artists from engaging with contemporary art.
I first worked with Josh on Enharmonic in 2019, but this time it was a 50/50 collaboration, which was a really refreshing, fun and engaging way to work for me, as I am used to working in isolation. The resulting work is called Rudiments, and it consists of four videos with accompanying printed artefacts, acting as AR triggers. Check out their website for further details on ordering limited edition artefacts of our work, and to read a more detailed description of the concepts & methods behind the project.
The documentary Sisters With Transistors is one of the best fivers you’ll ever spend even if you’re only vaguely interested in the subject. (Plus it’s approved by Thom Yorke so need I say more?)
I was lucky enough to see Camille Norment’s Rapture at the Venice Biennale in 2015, and she is one of my favourite artists. The way in which she explores ‘the tension between poetry and catastrophe’ using the glass harmonica leaves me breathless.
Two particular tracks featuring cellist Oliver Coates - Industry by Michael Gordon and Love by Mica Levi. Hearing Industry live for the first time as part of a Jonny Greenwood & LCO gig was one of the most intense musical experiences I’ve ever had. My dad & brother are cello teachers (I attempted to learn when I was young but gave up quickly) so witnessing him play in such a way made my head explode. Love is hauntingly beautiful, I could go on and on about how much I adore Mica Levi but I’ll leave you to discover more of her work.
Pendulum Music by Steve Reich - a seminal and strangely comical piece, which I would love to experience in person one day!
Friends and family:
My sister Martha Bean has a ridiculously beautiful EP coming out soon, in collaboration with Jon Hargreaves, so check out her music as well as Nursery Rhymes 123 if you have little ones (these are the animations I have been working on in the past year.)
Local musician Aaron Xavier has some wonderful songs in the pipeline after releasing his first single last year, so be on the lookout for more soon!