In the shadow of the towering office blocks that occupy Canary Wharf, Greenwich Peninsula’s Now Gallery presents Routine: a new immersive audiovisual installation by Ben Cullen Williams and Gaika.
The two multidisciplinary artists – Williams specialising in sculpture and video, Gaika favouring audio – have set out to explore the human relationship with the stark city landscapes we inhabit. Open until September 3, the installation explores how our lives are interwoven with the urban landscapes that surround us, questioning how can we make a sustainable humane system within cities and how would cities exist without people.
Gaika and Williams achieve this via a multi-channel film which splices together uncompromising cityscapes with human portraits, the experience heightened and guided via a hyperreal spatial audio technology instrument built by L-Acoustics that creates soundscapes built around the experience within the exhibition space.
Here, the pair take us through the making of Routine.
courtesy of Studio Ben Cullen Williams
Williams: “Gaika and I collaborated on a piece for the London Design Biennale [in 2021]. I created this video work and I needed some sound for it, so I asked Gaika. I have been a fan of him for a while, so I asked if he wanted to do the score. That obviously went down really well and [the work] is going around at the moment, for example at the Art Museum, Beijing. After that, I thought it would be nice to create something which was completely collaborative from the start, to work in the studio together and develop a completely joint piece of work together.”
Gaika: “This time around, I have been more involved in building the design of the actual piece and it’s got more in terms of composition. Routine is more inclined to a larger part of my practice, as opposed to just me composing music. It’s 100 per cent more collaborative and we are all working on it together from base principles, instead of interpreting each others ideas. We are thinking about what areas are overlapping in what we want to talk about, and our skill set, and how we can work together to manifest it. I think funnily our practices are quite similar, more than we thought.”
Williams: “We started off with a completely blank slate. The exhibition is not in the existing Now Gallery, it’s in the project space next to it, which is slightly bigger and is a clean rectangle space, so we went down there together with an open mind, and then we started talking about different interesting themes. So it was born out of conversation and mutual interests, finding those overlapping themes which would work well.
Gaika: “Both of us wanted to make public work, work that anyone can go down and have a look. It’s not in a private collection or in a place which is alienating to people. Part of the functionality for me was that this is more of a philosophical thing, in that, I wanted to make something that works, that has a purpose and leads into what the work is about. How do you interact with the environment? Why are we doing it? It’s all these questions which we want to pose an answer. So that guided my hand, in not only the soundtrack, but the method of delivery.
“[Working with L-Acoustics] was dope. It’s not common that you’ll get that much hardware to play with and the best kind of hardware. Often my canvases are bits of equipment or technical things, speakers, screens etc. I think it’s created infinite possibilities in terms of composing a piece of work that is experienced spatially – it’s not just a looped piece of music, it’s something that changes and is affected by the people that go to see it. Again, it speaks to fundamentally what this work is about. What does It mean to be in a place, a city? Are you in the city or is the city in you? Being able to express that, and doing it in a way that is accessible, without all the things that come from having loads of money is incredible.”
Gaika (left) and Ben Cullen Williams (right)
Williams: “The space provides opportunities and challenges. We are basically in this glazed box which is exciting because anybody can walk by and look in to see what’s going on. It’s not in a private basement of a gallery in Mayfair or behind closed doors, so it’s very accessible. But also, that provides a lot of challenges at the same time because mine and Gaika’s work often exists in dark rooms, based on insular experiences, which you can do a lot with projection etc. But obviously, if you’re in a room which is light all the time, how do you manifest something in that?”
Gaika: “What’s really interesting is the publicness, but also the alienation. You can see it from the outside and then you go in and are kind of transported – sonically and visually it’s quite mysterious. There’s this giant instrument which we aren’t explaining and in this work there’s lots of space for people to find their understanding. As you experience a city, it doesn’t tell you how you’re supposed to do it… you’re just there.”
Williams: “There’s kind of direct conversation of how the places we live are made in a cinematic way that is quite detached from a sense of reality.”
‘Routine’ is open at Now Gallery until September 3, 2022.