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White Sound: an urban seascape

Wellcome Collection | 22 September–16 October 2011

This autumn, noise from the gridlocked traffic on the Euston Road in Central London will be replaced by the sound of waves breaking onto pebbles with White Sound: an urban seascape, a newly commissioned work by Bill Fontana at Wellcome Collection, supported by Camden Council, Haunch of Venison and the Socially Responsive Art and Design Hub.

For three weeks, the installation will transform the urban environment of one of London’s most polluted thoroughfares with a live sound feed from Chesil Beach in Dorset. White Sound will create an entirely new acoustic architecture that challenges our sense of place and dissolves the physical sensation of being in the city within an experience of the tidal rhythms of the sea.

Pedestrians approaching Wellcome Collection along Euston Road will find themselves enveloped by the sounds of waves, which will be projected onto the street. The river of cars, buses and lorries will continue its slow progress, but the noise of engines and horns will be muted by the imported seascape. Fontana’s work contests the visual identity of the built environment and White Sound’s transparent intervention will force a new apprehension of the space we move through.

Sitting in traffic queues, time can appear to slow painfully, but the seascape evokes a natural activity that moves towards a deeper time: a continuous cycle carried over thousands of years. Placing the hypnotic sound of Chesil Beach on the congested Euston Road, White Sound raises questions about our understanding of stillness and movement, in both urban and natural environments.

Chesil Beach is formed of a unique 18-mile pebble bank, with the Fleet Lagoon on one side and the sea on the other. Its stones, largely chert and flint, are graded neatly along its length, such that fisherman arriving by night are said to be able to locate themselves by the size of the pebbles beneath their feet. The beach is part of the Jurassic Coast, and a UNESCO designated World Heritage site. Film footage from the beach will play in Wellcome Collection throughout the installation’s run.

Ken Arnold, Head of Public Programmes at Wellcome Collection says: “Bill Fontana brilliantly confuses our sense of where we are and what we are experiencing. Just by closing our eyes he manages to turn one of Europe's noisiest and most polluted roads into a live seascape. It will be fascinating to see how the public responds to the English Channel crashing onto the Euston Road outside Wellcome Collection.”

Bill Fontana (born 1947, USA) trained as a composer and is celebrated for his pioneering work in sound, which explores the nature of our acoustic environment. He has exhibited his sound sculptures at leading museums around the world, as well as at iconic locations from the Golden Gate bridge to the Arc de Triomphe. London has a particular call on Fontana, and his works here have included installations carrying the hidden sounds of the Millennium Bridge within Tate Modern and a live sound map of Big Ben at Tate Britain. His first explorations of the coastline and the unique acoustics of Chesil Beach were linked to an installation at the National Maritime Museum and, most recently, the sounds of the Thames were brought to the subterranean spaces of Somerset House. Fontana has received numerous fellowships for his work, including the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship in 1986. He lives and works in San Francisco and is represented in the UK by Haunch of Venison.

White Sound: an urban seascape by Bill Fontana runs at Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, NW1 2BE from 22 September to 16 October 2011.

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Notes to editors

Media contact
Tim Morley
Senior Media Officer
T 020 7611 8612
E t.morley@wellcome.ac.uk

White Sound: an urban seascape is created in partnership with Camden Council, Haunch of Venison, University of the Arts, London, and Wellcome Collection.

Euston Road is one of the most heavily used roads in the UK, where pollution levels are at risk of exceeding EU limits. With this in mind, Camden Council contacted Bill Fontana in the hope of creating a project which would raise awareness of the polluting effects of traffic emissions on peoples’ health and the surrounding environment. By overlapping the sound of traffic with the sound of the sea, Camden Camden Council hopes that White Sound: an urban seascape will make people take stock of their daily urban experience and encourage the use of non-polluting, alternative modes of transport.

As part of Camden Council’s Green Camden campaign, a number of initiatives are running to help people make greener choices about how they travel. From 22 September to 16 October, these will include: Bill Fontana’s site-specific installation at the Wellcome Collection; a car free day; cycle training, information on local car clubs and demonstrations about electric vehicles and bikes.

Socially Responsive Art and Design Hub is at the centre of a research and practice network that works with partners to research, create and implement art and design led strategies that respond to social issues, prioritise social impact and embrace social change.

Socially Responsive Design Hub is located within Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and is part of the University of the Arts London. The University's 1,228 teaching staff, as active professional artists, practitioners, designers, critics and theorists, lead the way on creative and experimental practice alongside historical and theoretical analysis. In September 2011, the college is moving to a new home at King’s Cross. The move to this exciting and versatile space will mark a new era in arts education.

Wellcome Collection is a free visitor destination for the incurably curious. Located at 183 Euston Road, London, Wellcome Collection explores the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future. The building comprises three gallery spaces, a public events programme, the Wellcome Library, a café, a bookshop, conference facilities and a members' club.

Wellcome Collection is part of the Wellcome Trust, a global charity dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities; its breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. The Trust is independent of both political and commercial interests.

 

   

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