One’s initial sensory reaction to Serena Korda’s polyphonic Missing Time is not an auditory one; but rather the notion of being wholly encompassed within a symbiosis of sound and sculpture, cascading from ceiling to the ground.
Speaking of her influences, Korda explains how she became ‘obsessed’ with the bucolic North East coastline during her two-year Norma Lipman and BALTIC fellowship in Ceramic Sculpture at Newcastle University, from which this exhibition is the result. The artist was initially stimulated by the now-obsolete concrete sound mirrors that litter the North East, which were once used to detect enemy planes prior to the introduction of radar technology. But she also drew inspiration from the region’s world-renowned dark skies, and used contemporary radio devices to collect cosmic sounds from Northumberland’s starry nightscape.
The physical preponderance of concrete sound mirrors in this exhibition is undeniable. The circular clay dishes comprise the main visual component, with each forty-kilogram sculpture mounted across the walls at almost a metre in diameter. Korda assiduously enveloped herself in a process as worthy of note as the final result; using an 18th century Japanese technique called Nerikomi, in which clay is stained with pigment, rolled, sliced and re-rolled resulting in an amorphous, marbled pattern.
Speakers have been mounted in front of the artist’s sound mirrors and angled so their audio reflects back to the visitor. The melodious cosmic harmonies are soothing, but are interjected by sudden onslaughts of obstreperous human voices, which we discover are vocals from North East a cappella group Mouthful. The sudden vocal interruption is rendered from notes derived from a range of planetary harmonics that have been generated from mathematical tone. Korda’s direct interweaving of human voice with outer space triggers an overwhelmingly personal sentiment with the great unknown; intensifying our mortal association with the unending cosmos.
Korda displays an atavistic approach drawn from erudition in ancient cosmology, and the binding of natural forms by ‘vibration, sound and energy’. It connects to an ancient philosophical concept known as ‘Music of the Spheres’, which proposes that the movement of celestial bodies – such as stars, planets and moons – creates a form of harmonics. Korda explains this ‘music’ was thought to have an effect on the human psyche: a concept she has drawn upon in this exhibition to explore the relationships between mankind, Earth and the cosmos.
Visually, the exhibition mimics unabatedly the simultaneity of the grounding and towering relationship Korda is trying to represent. Broken ceramic dishes hang high up on the wall, imitating perhaps meteorites decimated upon entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, and intensifying what Korda describes as the lack ‘of control’ we have over these otherworldly forces. The intact ceramic sound portals encircle the audience, creating a 360° auditory and visual experience, before returning firmly to the earth with the interactive rug and chair set up centrally in the room.
Despite wanting to initiate a conviviality and human sentiment with the chairs, the principal response was a lack of clarity as to their purpose. As with the rest of the display, an in depth understanding of Korda’s influences is integral to fully appreciating the exhibition. However, once informed, it is easy to interpret Korda’s attempt at attuning our human responses to the world as a success.
Missing Time, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead.
9 February – 28 May.
Rosie Minney is a Fine Art student based in Newcastle upon Tyne.