Mark Fisher & Justin Barton: On Vanishing Land @ The Showroom

The all-enveloping audio experience in the latest collaboration of artists and theorists Mark Fisher and Justin Barton, is an adventure in sonic fiction. On Vanishing Land, curated by The Otolith Collective and presented by The Showroom, is a step forward radio story telling and that old FM changing station sound.

I entered the gallery on the exhibition’s opening night while an untitled sequence of visual references was rolling on the projector: it is produced by English Heretic’s Andy Sharp, as an accompaniment to the installation. Images from the coast fade in and out silently until Fisher’s and Barton’s audio essay comes in (lights out) to take you on a journey of sonic-spotter literal world.

On Vanishing Land involves a number of additional collaborations including digital artists and musicians Dolly Dolly (Antimacassar: Exotic Pylon Records), Farmers of Vega, John Foxx (Ultravox!), Gazelle Twin (Mammal: Sugarcane Recordings), Baron Mordant (Mordant Music), Nick Edwards (Ekoplekz), Raime duo Joe Andrews and Tom Halstead, Skjolbrot (Maersk, 2010) and improvising musician and visual artist Pete Wiseman. The end result is a delightful 45min audio-essay that really takes the landscape of visual arts production to a whole different terrain, which is imaginative and worth exploring.

Guest Editor | Georgia Korossi – writer & curator based in London & Athens

Justin Barton, who recently also completed his first novel The Corridor, talks to Georgia Korossi about the beginnings of the project.

REVma -/+: What’s the story behind your collaboration with Mark Fisher?
J.B.: It’s one of these things where the story goes back and then further back because me and Mark [Fisher] were friends at Warwick University studying philosophy. We did an earlier piece called londonunderlondon (2005), another documentary essay, and we followed a line that came from the fact that we were having conversations about fictions in film and TV series.

We found friends who in one way or another were connected to the story and we began to get the idea for something in which we could use music very fundamentally. Resonance FM gave us 90′ slots and me and Mark thought that basically there was something there, like a radio film.

REVma -/+: How your project On Vanishing Land kicked off?
J.B.: The backstory of On Vanishing Land was something like 7 years ago. We had the idea of a sequel to londonunderlondon and we got up to Suffolk, a really interesting area as a whole.

We took an 18-mile walk along the coast on a bizarrely hot day in April towards an extraordinary area that is a whole terrain of ruins. After this walk we eventually came to On Vanishing Land. Because it’s a narrative we also wanted it to be a dreaming in its own right – a response to the area, and its dreams and music.

REVma -/+: When does MR James arrive in the project?
J.B.: MR James arrived following our decision to go to this area in Suffolk looking at derelict but not gothic sites – many of them second world war ruins. It was the BBC adaptations, which we were most thinking about rather than the MR James’ stories.

It’s this odd, near abstract quality about them, eerie Suffolk, just the sky, the land, a strange entity in the middle distance. Even though obviously they are dark, demon tales, they’re not ghost stories, they’re about strange entities as opposed to ghosts.

The fundamental element was the idea of the eerie as opposed to the gothic. We developed an idea that there is a phenomenon of the eerie and that began to be the new abstract consistency that went alongside the Suffolk’s coast of the walk. With the eerie there is an emptiness of space, silence, it doesn’t matter what it is, but into the silence for a moment you hear something unknown. It could be something very dark, something unpleasant but it could also be something unbelievably positive. It’s the unknown, which is knowable as opposed to the unknown, which is unknowable. It seems that the eerie is an impression of the unknown, which is knowable.

REVma -/+: Did you record any sounds alongside your walk?
J.B.: No, we took photographs. We didn’t do any sound recording. I think initially it was just a good idea to immerse ourselves. So things happened afterwards in terms of recordings. We tend not to use concrete sounds as a basic rule, like recordings of bird songs. I think there’s a tendency of people to have an all too familiar postwar England, it’s the kind of thing you hear on Radio 4, robins and black birds singing – just giving you an all too English, an all too conventional conservative English dreaming. At one point in On Vanishing Land it’s mentioned that a robin is singing, and we used dark electronic sound with it, which in a way sets you free to think what a robin is. It’s not a denial of the robin it’s more about what a fierce, unbelievable survivor, what an amazing creature it is. So maybe you get more of the essence of the song of a robin…

REVma -/+: When I listened to your audio essay it really traveled me. Can you talk about the role of music in your work?
J.B.: Particularly with On Vanishing Land it was really fundamental to have the music. Since the project is as much about music as about the words you have to see the words as another kind of sound or musical track alongside the music. The sonic dynamic is very key. Both londonunderlondon and On Vanishing Land, are very much about collaboration with musicians. With really good music you get this extraordinary thing like when you hear something said with the words, and you hear music alongside it and following it, and you feel the words said something, and then the music really said it, said it much better – it’s very powerful…