Elizabeth Green: Perpetual Prologue
“Last year, I was invited to be part of an exhibition at 55 Westgate Road, Newcastle upon Tyne. While researching the site, I discovered that it was once called Assembly House. Regular gatherings for dancing or card playing were held there between 1716 – 1736. In 1735, the celebrated Newcastle-born composer Charles Avison performed his first subscription concert in the building.
Avison was mentioned in Laurence Stern’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman; in which the story of Shandy’s life ‘rarely flows in a tolerable straight line.’ The narrative is full of meandering digressions, loops, and changes of direction. It neither reaches a conclusion or ever truly begins-Shandy’s birth is not mentioned until volume three of the novels.
Sterne’s metaphysical approach to this ‘cock and bull tale’ is something my own art practice is concerned with. I am particularly interested in the passage of time, and how subjective this can be when reading or listening to music. The diagram used by Shandy to visually describe the non-linear narrative of his writing was later echoed by Kurt Vonnegut in his rejected Master’s thesis on the shape of stories. These graphs chronicle the fate of characters over time, similar to the lines describing the chronology of the first few volumes of Tristram Shandy. Shandy is a narrator unstuck in time, much like the character of Billy Pilgrim in Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5.
For Shandy Hall, I propose an orchestral performance to reflect the shape of this story; the build-up of anticipation, a sense of expectation and narrative tension never released. A perpetual prologue: Avison’s orchestra warms up for a performance.
In the gardens of Shandy Hall, an orchestra, led by a conductor, will perform their warm-up ritual interminably. Tuning instruments, clearing throats, turning pages of manuscripts. Visitors will be greeted by the sound of bows against strings, air passing through reeds, chord progressions, the tapping of a baton. This will continue, without beginning or end.
The diagrams illustrates the narrative path taken by Shandy as he writes reminds me of a graphic musical score. Copies of this visual notation will be placed on the music stands for the orchestra, while the conductor will refer to the image of the ‘flourish’ of liberty taken by Trim’s stick to dictate how they move their baton see below.”
I am a digital media Artist and Educator living and working in Newcastle upon Tyne. My practice explores the nature of time; specifically, the subjective experience of duration. Most recently I have been researching musical timekeeping by orchestra conductors and how this can manipulate our perception of the passage of time: condensing or expanding moments through bodily movements and music.