Tonight I created a new piece at the Southbank Centre for Hide&Seek.
People came one at a time. They were blindfolded and I held their hand and took them on a brief walk around the outside of the Southbank Centre, passing along the river by the Royal Festival Hall. They were told that as they walked they would hear a conversation, drifting in and out of earshot, sinking into the hubbub of the city only to bob to the surface again in unlikely places. They were told to try and follow this conversation as they walked.
At the end they were asked what they heard.
These were the responses.
It was a conversation between two people: a male and the other female. At the beginning they were discussing something about movie(s) and the actor(s). They mentioned a movie called Crimson Tide and were discussing about who was the main actor. The guy mentioned it was Denzel Washington, but the girl mentioned another actor (whose name I cannot remember – sorry…). Then there was a gap during the walk where I couldn’t hear the conversations properly. They were then discussing something about some buildings, probably about the SouthBank Centre. I am not very sure about this because I couldn’t hear properly. They discussed about their amazement of the (probably) the effort of building the place. Then they mentioned something about something in the National Portrait Gallery. The guy said something to the girl that she (should) know what he meant. That’s all about the conversation that I could remember from what I have heard.
First of all I heard footsteps echoing, a door closing and shutting, someone saying something like “peep, peep, peep”, a snippet of Russian……echoes under the bridge, someone running, fast footsteps, someone talking about happiness, “are you happy”…some mumbling, they don’t sound sad, just a companionable conversation…..fading out, something about surveillance in French Connection….about East Germany, finding it hard to concentrate on words because I’m enjoying looking at the floor, and hearing/seeing it mix with the sounds around me. A conversation about magic, the need for more magic – why can’t we have magical powers..but again, I’m almost hypnotised by the sounds, washing around, sweeping in and out….the conversation sounds just a little bit staged, and I like that, because it reminds me of school plays, about knowing what one is doing, about something meant to come after something else…about emotional detachment, and being led through a situation, not having to find the way…which is how I feel too, it feels like sitting in a hairdresser, with someone moulding how you look, and feeling as if you are safe, that someone else is briefly in control of your destiny…then there’s another conversation, a couple chatting in Russian, more conversation that I really can’t hear, and I want to follow it because I feel like it is disappearing and when it goes away, then the music will stop too, and I feel as if I know how the music goes now, it is almost familiar, the conversation fades, there are the echoes under the bridge, more footsteps and then it is finished.
Beautiful beautiful all is beautiful. What was that film with the black man in it? What Denzel Washington? No Gene Hackman. Yeah it was wicked. What about French Connection? It’s a bit of an old film but still it’s about spying. Oh yeah and the Lives of Others in East Germany…well it’s set in east Germany. Yeah that was good. I used to have sleepovers as a kid and we used to spy on people. Well what did you hear? Well nothing, I was only 10 years old or something.
I really like it hear. Concrete is just so…egalitarian I love it. What are you doing just standing there you fucking dickhead? What? What?…
Yeah so as I was saying about those sleepovers…I feel nostalgic…
Large noisy train passing overhead
It’s so beautiful round here…
A couple trying to work out an actor’s name
What was he in? – that submarine movie – hunt for red October, no, Crimson Tide
You mean Denzel Washington? No the other guy Gene Hackman – he was in The French Connection, also that movie about surveillance – he played a guy who listened to other conversations….
A girl talking – she remembers sleepovers when she was a girl
Then a big train rolling past – clanking – are we under a bridge?
That couple again – he was talking about the power to get something as massive as the structure/road/edifice that we were on, commissioned – imagine the power to do that…
Hard to make out anything above the noise of the train
Then as we climbed some steps, some voices below, shouting up to somebody up on the higher level – telling them to come down
Then the same couple coming past again – he was talking about something quite hard to make out – their conversation drifted in and out of hearing – eventually he said that he didn’t know that what he was saying made any sense
By that stage I was getting too engrossed in the ambient sounds rather than the conversation, and can’t remember much else! I began to think of myself as ploughing through the environment around me – my sense of physical integrity began to become more important to me – it seemed to be all I could hold onto.
I heard two young people, a man and a woman, talking about films. They were trying to remember a film – was it Hunt for Red October? Crimson Tide? Starring Denzel Washington? No. Gene Hackman. Yeah. Him.
I was conscious of silence, and of the sound of the river (much louder than I would have thought) in the background, and the sounds of traffic and other people.
I became aware that the film that the man was talking about was The Conversation. He mentioned surveillance, and eavesdropping. I think I heard a finger click.
Another couple came up close, so I lost them, and then I heard them talking about God (I think?) maybe something to do with religion, the guy was talking about sending people off to ‘sleepy-bye-bye-land, yeah that’s what they actually call it, sleepy bye bye land’
Then I think she said she loved this place because it was egalitarian. She preferred it to architecture like Westminster Abbey, which showed off how many workers it took to build with its ornateness, and reminded you how FUCKING SMALL you were.
Then two Italian ladies talked loudly about refrigerators. They talked about refrigerators (in Italian) for what seemed like AGES. I was very pleased to spot the Italian word for refrigerator. Forgive me if it seems like I am harping on about this. The Italian word for refrigerator is ‘frigorifero’. It’s such a great word. Admittedly, even non-italian speakers might guess its meaning.
Then the trains got too loud for me to hear anything else.
The next thing I was conscious of was that the couple were on my left side, for the first time. Do you know, I can’t remember what they were saying for the life of me.
Then it was nearly over, and the man used the word gaddying, which I haven’t heard of either, and the girl archly accused him of being E.M.Forster.
I heard four different parts to a conversation – one about film, one about the southbank, one about a friend who had died and one about film. I was aware there were others but I was struck by the sounds of the southbank from time to time (the train, the river, the people, the traffic, which were beautiful and by my own vunerability as a blind person being led)
The first part they were recalling an actor’s name and talking about films he was in and also films in general (Crimson tide, the lives of others). They then took in the Southbank, the view (their descriptions forming exaggerated beautiful and imposing pictures in my mind as I heard the associated noises). They talked about how much power people had to build such buildings – how it was simple and streamlined and it was egalitarian. I then lost them for a bit up and down stairs, before overhearing them talk about a friend who had died, and how it was a bit like a film, they knew the ending to his story, and that he was like a ghost now. They then finished up with films again, recollecting and recalling different actors and films. Gene Hackman was the last thing I heard.