Structure, scale, geography, systems, code – all play their part in Weave Waves, an ambitious partnership between sound artist Scanner and textile designer/maker Ismini Samanidou. Commissioned by the Crafts Council, the fruits of the project so far get their first public airing in an ‘immersive slideshow’ at Manchester’s FutureEverything summit, before the completed work goes on tour later in the year.
The project flickered into life when the Crafts Council approached Scanner – real name Robin Rimbaud – with a proposal that would involve him working with a maker of any description. Having taken on projects as diverse as ballet scores and soundtracking musical comedies, alongside a personal practice that has seen him previously commissioned by Artangel and Tate, the prospect left him typically unfazed. The only question was: what kind of maker would he choose to work with?
“It could have been any kind of maker,” he explains. “They could have worked in ceramics, glass or even jewellery. Then I had a kind of epiphany. We don’t just listen to sound, we see sound too. Like a rock being thrown into a pool, you see ripples appear. I thought it would be fantastic to be able to see those sound waves appear in textile form.”
Plucking material from the air
Numerous artists have worked with found sounds, but Scanner’s career has been built on literally plucking material out of the air, from mobile phone signals to radio transmissions. Finding a maker who could match his aptitude for innovation might have been a challenge, but with Samanidou there was a ready and willing foil for his intervention into contemporary craft.
Often utilising technology to transpose photographic imagery onto fabric, the Athens-born, Cornwall-based artist works with digitised looms, occasionally adjusting the weave while it is in progress. The adoption of digital tools gave both artists common ground to work from.
“We talked about computerised production very early on,” explains Samanidou. “We realised we shared an interest in the way sound and textiles have hidden codes. For me, code is very much the construction method for the textiles, and I see it as something tangible, something I can easily visualise and control.”
Similarities and differences
Where the two found similarities they also found differences – Scanner highlights a “very helpful tension” between the artists backgrounds. “You can see a pattern in textiles,” he says. “Like with knitting, you understand that there is a structure. Music has a similarity to textiles in that a pop record also has structure, but you lose focus on the structure and begin to enjoy it as a whole.
“The same can be said for a beautiful piece of textile work. Although the outcomes are very different, the code used for making textiles is still binary, it remains ones and zeros and it’s the same for making music.”
Weave Waves is being allowed to develop in front of its audiences eyes, with Scanner and Samanidou documenting each stage of their collaboration online. Captured sounds, photography depicting accidental patterns and examples of woven work all provide traces of Scanner and Samanidou’s journey, which included a visit to Manchester earlier in the year. Large conurbations and their sounds and structures offer a central point of inspiration.
“One of the planned outcomes is lots of small textiles where the detail will be overhead views of cities,” explains Scanner. “They’ll be displayed in their own vitrine, with the viewer invited to observe each with a magnifying glass. As they lean over the piece, the sound from the city will play.”
The presentation of this idea is still to be realised, and the issue of making sound work in an exhibition space without it disturbing people viewing other pieces is yet to be resolved. Headphones, believes Scanner, aren’t the solution. “I don’t think they ever work in an exhibition environment,” he says.
Breathing new life
Further exploring ideas of contrasting scale, the pair have also worked on a large textile piece that, by using spectrograph software, will represent the sound of their own breathing. The intimacy of this most basic act contrasted with the impersonal rush of city life underpins the work.
“Looking at scale between cities and individuals, we wanted to juxtapose the hum of the city with the sound of an individual person,” explains Samanidou. “It made sense to use our own breath as the origins of the work.”
Weave Waves will be complete in time for the forthcoming Crafts Council touring exhibition Sound Matters: Exploring sound through forms. Scanner, who describes his leap into the crafts world as an informed risk, remains curious about how people will respond to the work.
“I want to seduce people into recognising the relationship between mine and Ismini’s practices and lead them into a sense of being surprised by it,” he says. “But, at the same time, I’m thinking: How will the crafts world read this?”
This article was co-commissioned with SyncTank, the online magazine of Sync – a set of activities designed to support cultural organisations in Scotland develop a more progressive relationship with technology and technologists.
More on a-n.co.uk
Ismini Samanidou profile – Frances Lord talks to the artist about her designs for woven fabrics, ranging from one-off pieces to limited edition textiles (Subscriber resource).