12 May–14 May 2023
Opening Friday 12 May, 6–8pm
Sunday 14 May 3pm: Artist in conversation with exhibition curators
Breath Variations is a new body of work created by Irish artist Christopher Steenson (b. 1992) for Flat Time House. Using sound, video, and transmission-based methodologies, Breath Variations will explore the materiality of time – its permanence and evanescence – and the power that attention has over its transmission and state of matter. By manipulating and extending the sonic dimensions of Flat Time House, Steenson investigates the capacity of breath as a ‘least event’ – Latham’s term for the shortest departure from a state of nothingness – to punctuate linearities of time and space.
Breath Variations is part of the MA Curating Contemporary Art Graduate Projects 2023, Royal College of Art, in partnership with Flat Time House. Curated by: Cindy He, Thomas Cury, Salomé Jacques, Romy Lagesse, Napas Mangklatanakul, Ariana Martin, Liyin Wang and Hyora Yang.
The site-specificity of Breath Variations was driven by a residency at Flat Time House, undertaken by Steenson in April 2023. Alongside periods of archival research, through which the artist explored the history of the space, Steenson also used this time to gather sound and video recordings connected to the gallery and the surrounding area.
Through engaging with Latham’s archive, Steenson has taken particular inspiration from Latham’s artwork Big Breather (1972) – a structure that simulated the movement of tides using seawater and a bellow system, and which was considered by Latham to present a method of capturing tidal energy. First presented as a proof-of-concept at Gallery House in London, Big Breather was never installed in the proposed location of the North Sea, 12 miles southeast of Arbroath, Scotland.
For Breath Variations, Steenson will present a new sound work, inhale, exhale (oi-io), which will broadcast in synchronicity with the high and low tide times of the East Scottish coast. This transmission-based artwork will explore the circulatory action of inhalation and exhalation by broadcasting both outside and inside the gallery, similarly to how Latham’s book sculpture How the Univoice is Still Unheard (2003), transects the front window of Flat Time House.
Drawing visitors further into the gallery space, Breath Variations will also premier Steenson’s first significant moving image-based work, comprising a spatial sound component that will activate across different spaces of the building. Using video and sound captured during Steenson’s residency, ranging from the minutiae of passing road markings and electrical wires, to emanating fields of electromagnetic radiation, the work’s form seeks to further expand upon the idea of the ‘least event’ by meditating on the relationships between breathing, electricity, and through-lines of time.
Christopher Steenson, Soft Rains Will Come, 2022, indeterminate sound artwork for twelve Cold War-era radios placed on stilts (to protect against eventual submersion). Infinite duration (or until the electricity stops). Bespoke algorithmic audio system, live shortwave radio signals, field recordings, voiceover and collected shortwave radio recordings. Broadcast via radio transmitters. Dimensions variable. Installation view, VISUAL Centre for Contemporary Art, Carlow, Ireland (26 February – 22 May 2022). Photograph by Ros Kavanagh, courtesy the artist and Arts Council of Ireland Visual Art Collection.
Christopher Steenson is an artist based between the north and south of Ireland. With a background in psychology and the sonic environment, his work uses sound, analogue photography, writing and digital media to forge ways of ‘listening to the future’. Drawing upon the open methodologies of John Cage, and the idea of ‘correspondences’ proposed by anthropologist Tim Ingold, Steenson’s sound-based artworks attempt to operate as a collaborative process, emerging as a field of potentialities between listeners and (speculative) environments. Often taking the form of installations, public interventions and broadcasts, these artworks use the conventions of radio and transmission-based infrastructure to locate audiences within a ‘dreamtime’ – a space in which pasts, presents, and futures are negotiated on a continuum.
Recent and upcoming presentations include: Almanac for a Walled City for the Derry city walls (2023); the site-specific sound work Let it run all over me for Lagan Weir, Belfast (2023); ‘Periodical Review 12: Practical Magic’ at Pallas Projects/Studios, Dublin (2022); ‘TULCA Festival of Visual Arts 2022: The World Was All Before Them’, curated by Clare Gormley; ‘Soft Rains Will Come’ at VISUAL Centre for Contemporary Art (2022), curated by Emma Lucy O’Brien and Benjamin Stafford; ‘Translations’ at Project DivFuse, London (2022), ‘Connemara Landscape’ for Sonorities sound biennale, Belfast (2022); the group exhibition ‘Urgencies’ at CCA Derry~Londonderry (2021), curated by Locky Morris and Catherine Hemelryk; and the national public sound artwork On Chorus (2020).
In March 2022, Steenson was artist-in-residence at Interface, Connemara, Galway. In July 2019, he participated in Sounding Paths, an international residency for site-specific sound and intermedia projects on the remote island of Syros, Greece. He will be artist-in-residence at Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Omaha, USA, in Fall 2023. His work has also been covered by various publications and media outlets including Paper Visual Art, Irish Times, RTÉ News, RTÉ Radio 1, The Irish Examiner, Dublin Inquirer, The Quietus and BBC Radio Ulster. He has received funding from the Arts Council of Ireland (2019–2022), the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (2019, 2020 & 2022); Kerry Arts Office (2020) and the ESB Brighter Future Fund (2022–2023). His artwork Soft Rains Will Come (2022) is held in the Arts Council of Ireland Visual Art Collection. Steenson is currently part of the fourth and final cohort participating in the PS² Freelands Foundation Artist Programme (2022–2023).
About the Curating Contemporary Art MA
The Curating Contemporary Art MA (CCA) programme is a well-established and highly influential programme recognised as a world leader in curatorial education. The programme actively contributes to how curating is understood, practiced and thought about across the globe. With a network of over 500 alumni from across 47 different countries, CCA is a highly international programme, designed to develop critical awareness of curating in a global context. Committed to collaborative work, the programme places real importance on peer-to-peer group work, as a way of learning together and sharing knowledges and cultures, and testing ideas. The programme is part of the RCA’s School of Arts and Humanities, and is led by Professor Victoria Walsh, Head of Programme. This year’s graduate project course has been led by Kelly Large and Laura Vallés Vílchez. rca.ac.uk/cca
All photography by Ariana Martin