Alison Berry & Niki Campbell

Pursuing the theme of speaking in tongues, we looked at everyday situations where speech becomes indecipherable. Recordings were made of large gatherings of people in train stations and canteens, but we were both drawn to the recording of Alison’s daughter’s parents’ evening. The babbling hubbub of many voices in a large school hall had a warm comforting sound and radiated positivity as the futures of the young students were being discussed. We decided to spontaneously draw and paint in a mixture of media on a large piece of paper while listening to this recording and produced Babbling 1. Instinctively trying to find sense in the nonsense we tended to write/draw the odd clear word or phrase above the hubbub. It was a challenge to respond purely to the sound recording as inevitably personal aesthetics determined some of the mark making. A departure from our normal more thoughtful way of working we felt the piece nevertheless showed the optimistic, upbeat and many layered nature of the sound recording.

Returning to the Bible, arguably the most famous reference to speaking in tongues is Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 13 which describes love. An incredibly moving piece of writing it explains that the possession of many things, including the gift of speaking in tongues, is nothing if you do not have love. In an experimental move we separately recorded ourselves reading Chapter 13 and then superimposed our voices. Looking for further readings to record we returned to the lyrics of the Arcade Fire track “Speaking in Tongues”. The line “Hypocrite reader, my double, my brother” is from Charles Baudelaire’s poem “To the Reader” written in 1857 which begins his collection of poems “Evil Flowers”. On reading “To the Reader” we felt it was in many ways the exact antithesis to Paul’s Chapter 13 and so seemed peculiarly appropriate to overlay on top. It describes in horribly evocative language a world of sin and incriminates the “hypocrite reader”. The resulting sound recording is Babbling 2. In hindsight this was a perverse thing to do; converting the clear message about love and its antithesis into a babbling, nonsense, speaking in tongues type sound. However as with previous work the odd phrase is decipherable and the whole piece has an undulating hypnotic feel.

Envisaged as a simple heap on the floor Silver Birch Writings consists of scraps of bark from a silver birch tree with text from Paul’s Chapter 13 and Baudelaire’s poem. The beautiful paper-like bark demanded to be written on and the clear letraset font possessed the authority of the printed word. The fragmentation of text through the conscious selection of individual words or phrases and through the concealing effect of the curl of the bark seemed to give each word more emotional punch. We felt the work possessed a fragile confessional quality and the use of tree bark referenced the forbidden tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden and the silver birch’s specific mythical qualities in folklore.


make sure (of something)

take care (of something)

ascertain, understand, learn


see, to perceive with the eyes

to perceive

with any of the senses


have recourse

to cherish the expectation

be a pointer or sign