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sensing atmospheres

In 2018 we began working with the Young Contemporaries, an autonomous group of young people (ages 16-25) who meet at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester on a weekly basis. Over a period of several months, our research team worked with the Young Contemporaries to develop a series of experimental propositions for sensing atmospheric shifts and suspensions of time within William Kentridge’s major exhibition Thick Time. Weaving together re-imagined histories of colonialism with the philosophy of art, cinema, science, and technology, Thick Time provided us with a rich environment of ’timescapes’ for developing sensory and creative experimentations with young people.  Each of Kentridge’s installations comprised a distinctive multi-sensory ecosystem, combining multi-channel sound, film, animation, sculptural, choreographic, and architectural components to condition a singular atmospheric experience in each space.

We worked with the Young Contemporaries to develop a series of creative techniques for sensing the affective atmospheres of the gallery. These technique led to an exhibition in the Whitworth's Great Hall titled 'Remixing Thick Time' which we co-produced with young people. 

(1) The haptic eye explored vision as a sensation that touches and intersects with the world’s movement in intimate ways. We used hand-held and chest-mounted video-cameras as drawing tools for physically performing the movement of Kentridge’s art-media machines. This led to an exploration of the ‘missing half-second’ between bodily sensation and conscious perception, which provoked us to cut the videos into still images at half-second intervals. The still images were printed, drawn onto transparent paper, photographed using a light board, and re-assembled in layers to form of a multi-layered and ghostly animation. 

(2) The sensing body explored the use of wearable biosensors to record changes in electro-dermal activity, relayed via Bluetooth to a laptop. Young people moved together through the exhibition rooms while simultaneously watching the graphical rendering of five biometric responses in different color codes on the computer screen. Later these devices were installed in the Whitworth as part of a ‘concept activation’ game which further explored the relationships between concepts, affects, and pre-cognitive sensations of time.  

(3) Sounding time, in which binaural headphones were plugged into a audio-recorder and worn as young people circulated through the gallery space, multiplying and magnifying the tonalities and sonic atmospheres. These recordings were sampled and ‘remixed’ live in the Whitworth using an electronic drum machine often utilised for hip hop beat production. 

(4) Fugitive whispers, which involved the reading of philosophical and poetic texts which engaged with the atmospheric sensation of time. This evolved into an exploration of the technique of whispering as an alternative to vocal projection and clarity. We selected particular places in the gallery, huddling in a small group, and then read aloud, in a whisper, poetic texts about sensation and time. These whispers were recorded and later wired into small containers evocative of travel and departure, themselves installed within a dark inflatable dome of silence within the gallery.


Liz de Freitas (Biosocial Lab, MMU)
David Rousell (Biosocial Lab, MMU)

Laura Trafi-Prats (Biosocial Lab, MMU)
LRiikka Hohti (Biosocial Lab, MMU)
Sally Thellwell (Whitworth Gallery)
Whitworth Young Contemporaries (ages 16-25) 


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