Helen Frosi, founder, Sound Fjord, London
SoundFjord is a gallery and research unit dedicated to the Sonic Arts. The gallery was founded to readdress the current lack of exhibiting space exclusively for works of sound art and focuses on the exhibition and documentation of art works, the development of artists within their creative and research practices, and ultimately, the promotion of sound art and its related interests to a wider audience. This creative venture – a partnership between a fine artist and sound designer – is a centre for experimentation and collaboration, with sound being central to all works researched or exhibited: as inspiration, conduit for artistic expression, or simply, the resulting work
HF: “Sound Fjord is an artist-run space. We opened in July 2010 specifically devoted to Sound Art and sound-related practice. Andrew Riley decided to open the space after discussion around Sound Art and how it’s not being given the time of day that it deserves. We started thinking about it in January and finally after renovation of the space that we had available to us, which is in Seven Sisters in North London, we opened our doors to the general public. And we now put on exhibitions, live events, audio screenings, film screenings also, if they are related to sound. And other events specifically revolving around sound and sound-related research and practice.
We are currently self-funded. We decided to do this strategically in the beginning because we didn’t want to restrict ourselves in terms of who we were wanting to put on and while we wanted to be really self-sufficient. And we have got to where we are today basically through skills-sharing and just asking friends and family and people we don’t know sometimes for a little bit of help or assistance or knowledge; and just working together with people for the greater good.
We try to be as open as possible in the way that we receive applications. We actually have an open call where anyone can send in their work. And we will judge it on merit alone. We’ve been doing that ever since the start and will continue to do so.
We have many platforms for our artists. And we like to share our work with the public in many different ways. Not only do we have exhibitions, we have live events, we have audio screenings – they tend to be acousmatic events, but we do sometimes have intimate live events as well. We have workshops, we have lectures and we have readings. We have all kinds of things that revolve in and around Sound Art and Sound Art practice.
I think one of the major challenges with working in London is that there are no predecessors for Sound Fjord. There are no Sound Art galleries or spaces specifically devoted to Sound Art. So we really felt like the blind leading the blind when we first opened up. Obviously there are other Sound Art galleries in Europe and the USA for example, so we did look to them for assistance. In terms of Sound Art devoted spaces, we really had to sort of put out our own feelers. And in that respect we were very free.
Living and working in London can be exhilarating, but it can also be infuriating. There’s so much going on in London culturally and artistically. There’s so much to see and do. In fact, there’s almost too much to see and do.
Something I really like to do in London is either to get up really really early in the morning or just stay up really late at night when city has actually calmed down a bit. When the heat from the day has dispersed. A lot of the noises become quieter and you can actually really pay attention to what is around you. The gallery being in Tottenham is quite an urban area. Actually very early and very late at night, you hear a lot of wildlife still, which can seem quite surprising. But I find that really really interesting, the kind of duality of the city, the rural and the urban that are still mingling together, along with the cultural diversity. In Tottenham there are many languages spoken, so actually to just walk down the West Green Road, which is the road that will eventually lead to the gallery, on Lawrence Road is such a wonderful place to be. Independent shops, butchers, fishmongers, grocers, all sort of selling their wears and making all the noises that are associated with that profession, like the cutting of the bones, the opening of packets, the calling of people to come and buy, come and buy. It’s still really kind of alive and it makes you feel alive hearing those sounds. And it makes you feel at home as well. In fact, if we were away for example when we’re on a research trip, when we actually come home, we really come to appreciate the soundscapes around us all the more because we’ve actually missed them whilst we’ve been away.
We currently have a sonic social, which is a networking event, which takes place at least once a month. Anyone who is interested in sound can come along. You don’t have to be an artist at all, but you just come along. You can listen or you can talk or you can bring work to show to others and to get some opinions. It’s very much up to the individual and how they make use of the time. We usually have at least two hours so people can really get together. And every time people have begun to build a close knit community. On our website we also have a page specifically for the Sonic Social and that basically details artists, a little piece of information about their work and also contact, address and website so people can research further and just discover a little bit more about artists across the world that are working in sound.
It’s really important that we work with not only international artists, but with also with artists that are right under our nose – local artists. There are so many artists in London and in fact in Tottenham where the gallery is based that are working in sound and are working on amazing projects. Actually the gallery has a really strong local community, and we try to bring the to the floor by putting on impromptu live events, and workshops and lectures just so people in the area can just drop-in, and even just have a chat with us about what Sound Art is, or if they don’t know anything about it to ask questions if they’re curious.
Our space is actually fairly small in itself so, we do have to be fairly creative in how to actually utilise the space to advantage. In fact the facade of the gallery is mainly glass, so we also invite artists to use that in a creative way as well. So it’s really about kind of digesting the architecture and really kind of taking apart and seeing how we can use that to best advantage, and how the artist can use that to best advantage. And to also to make the public really interested and wanting to come back to the space time and time again.
Sound Fjord is interested in working with all manner of artists who are working with sound, whether the sound is impetus behind the work, or the actual outcome of the work, it doesn’t really matter. All we’re looking for is practice that really looks at the essence of sound and interests behind sound-related research. We’ll consider work that are conceptual, so perhaps they don’t even contain sound. We’ll consider works that are audio/visual as long as the visuals are completely entwined with sound and therefore the work wouldn’t exist without it. We try to engage the public in many different ways, so not only do we have exhibitions, we have workshops, lectures and other events that we can think of around the subject matter that the artist is really concerned within the exhibition and within their practice as a whole.
So I think going forward in the future, I think we will have to get external fundings so we can put on larger events. I think it would be great to actually put on festivals, and to have a space that was specifically dedicated to Sound Art with all of the facilities available for lectures, workshops, screenings and so on and so forth that we don’t have at present. Obviously our space is intimate so we have to kind of put on exhibitions and then squeeze in workshops during when exhibitions are closed, for example. So actually to have a space that would be specifically for Sound Art where people can go to a workshop and go to an exhibition and go and see a residency and talk to an artist all in the same day, would be absolutely fantastic, and I think that’s what we’re really aiming for.
I think Sound Art is being more and more appreciated especially in the UK. Especially with the Turner Prize nominating two sound artists, I think with Susan Philippsz and the Otholith Group, they’re both working in sound. So more and more people are becoming aware of sound art practice and sound in the fine arts than there ever has been before.
So for us we really want to keep up that momentum. We don’t just want it to be seen as a fad or a fetish. We really want to make sure that it stands its ground, and that the general public really gets to grip with Sound Art and its practice and its history.
So I think sound is just so important and we do put it aside, we cover up our ears, we just blast our ears with so much that we just don’t hear anything anymore. So I think if everyone just wound down a little bit and just paid attention to the little nuances of sounds out there.
And I think in London there are so many different sound, I mean not only with languages, and cultural references to sound. Just nature itself, walking through crispy leaves or waking through ice or snow in the morning before its been trodden on before. The sound of the wind through your hair when you go for a walk on a mountainside for example. I mean all of those sound very romantic, but they are the things that are really ingrained within us and make us feel who we are.”