Adrian Heathfield & Hahn Rowe
this air is a site-responsive sonic work for galleries, museums and arts institutions. The work is experienced by an individual on headphones as a ‘tour’ around a building – it is usually made available during an institution’s opening hours, or by appointment, and takes roughly 40 minutes to complete. The work takes visitors through public and private spaces while listening to a speculative voice set to music: it is an intimate poetic meditation on the felt relations between environment and infrastructure.
What is carried over time in the air of a place? This impossible question – running against common sense and the laws of physics – is the impetus for Heathfield and Rowe’s exploration of voicings and soundings as echoic forms of life. this air takes the atmosphere of the building in which it is heard as a companion for a sensuous transport of the visitor. Moving with and through the diverse airs of an architecture, the piece reflects on the political ecology of the places in which art is made and witnessed.
In pandemic times, interiors of buildings were charged with a sense of contamination and risk. Air’s potential to be ‘occupied’ by harmful breath changed people’s habits of relation and movement. Whilst it wrecked countless lives and devastated cultures, a virus also made the species aware of shared breath as a material condition of human subsistence. We were forced to ask ‘where does breath end and the air begin’? Long cast as the invisible natural infrastructure of existence, we now know that ‘free’ and ‘clean’ air is a threatened resource. With its ‘purity’ and ‘goodness’ no longer taken for granted, air is increasingly understood as a volatile and highly political matter: the control of air is a power over subjected and marginalised bodies. The violent regulation of toxicity is a means through which the right to breathe is unevenly distributed, the way one’s breath is taken.
In this air, the visitor makes a sonorous journey attuning to various atmospheres of an institution, engaging with the politics of air as neglected matter, re-experiencing public spaces, discovering hidden areas, encountering rhythmic traces of erased histories: all disclosing new resonances of resident forces in search of resistant forms of life.
this air was originally commissioned by freethought collective as part of their residency on ‘spectral infrastructures’ hosted and supported by Basis Voor Actuele Kunst, Utrecht. Each new iteration of this work is distinct and re-composed with the architecture of the building in which it is situated.