Nuns Walk. Studies for soundwork at Polesden Lacey National Trust property. Part of the Garden Journeys project funded by the Arts Council and Surrey County Council.
Nun’s Walk - an ambient milieu
Nun’s Walk (2006) was a temporary sound installation set along a secluded pathway in the grounds of Polesden Lacey, Bookham, Surrey - a National Trust property and former stately home in the South East of England.
Nun's Walk - the enigmatic name given to this pathway through arching Yew trees suggests a spiritual space reminiscent of cloisters. In reality, there is no evidence that nuns actually walked this path.
By creating a sound work my intension was to alter the feel of the space without changing its visual impact.
Would added sound change the experience of the space? Would it be oppressive, liberating, disturbing or reassuring? Would the sound be internalised like an ‘inner voice’ or maybe release sad or happy memories?
A series of sixteen speakers were set up half-way along the pathway. The sound of single, and then multiple, footsteps were played into the space, along with the sounds of children playing, dogs barking and birds singing which had been recorded in the locality over a number of months. I added occasional interjections of sounds referring to the history of the location, which included a section of gramophone music dating from Edwardian times, and garden-party chatter, wine glasses clinking and gentle laughter.
The piece blurred the boundaries between the present, the recent past, and the distant past of the imagination. It was almost impossible to distinguish between actual sounds and the recorded sounds taken from the locality. The overall effect heightened awareness of the sounds around, as well as making the visitor conscious of the sound they themselves made as they moved through the space. It disturbed the visitors’ perceptual experience of the space, while the space itself appeared visually unaltered.
It was interesting to note that as one moved out of the sound zone there was a sense of loss, of leaving something behind, of parting, which generated mixed emotions: in part, a sense of sadness at leaving an intense experience, but also a sense of release, of freedom from the experience. One moved out of the sound zone with a heightened awareness of oneself and with a stronger feeling of connection to the environment, yet this left a sense of vulnerability, as if this new, exposed, self-aware person was emerging from a protective ‘blanket’ of sound.