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Curator blog: Helen Starr

by FACT

Part of the Autumn/Winter 2019 season

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Curator-in-Residence Helen Starr talks us through the thinking behind her upcoming exhibition at FACT, you feel me_, and how the artworks in the exhibition help her to consider the ways we can go about building a better world for the future.


I wanted to create an exhibition for FACT using a form of knowledge common to my ethnicity - known historically as Black Carib, Zambo, and in colonial Mexico - a favourite, lobo ("wolf"). I have a discursive, inductive way of thinking that is common to indigenous people. By indigenous, I mean people who understand themselves as continuous to a place and the things in and of that place. Scientists tells us that everything is connected and that is how matter uses energy to organise and re-organise things into complex systems that store and process information.

you feel me_ brings together a number of multi-sensory artworks, which engage all of our senses. To students of physics and indigenous people, sound exists as more than we can hear. Sound can be defined as a wave resulting from vibrations as particles release and absorb energy in the mediums through which the sound travels - water, air, or flesh. The lower frequencies register as “felt sound” - the knowing feeling as you approach a waterfall you cannot hear or see yet. That sound, which is felt through the skin, moves you through the land like a map charted inside your body.

Received Pronunciation, the standard in British media broadcasting is not a rich, evocative, or tonal sound. Tonal languages which use more complex notes occur throughout China, Africa, and the Americas. Mastery of tonal variation explains the Trinidadian joy in picong, "a verbal battle of rhymed verse which avoids loss of face." Tonal complexity allowed African talking drummers to send detailed information from one village to the next, faster than a man on a horse through invisible networked particles of flesh and air.

The artworks in you feel me_ help me to think. They allow me to rethink how information is used and augmented, and to rethink the acceptance of histories and the stories we tell ourselves. The exhibition helps me to think a lot about new technologies, and their seductive offer to usher in a better world.

Virtual, AI and digital systems are no longer simply modelling physical reality. They are shaping the way we behave and act with or without our knowledge and consent. They are transferring behaviours from a predatory, colonial past into the present and the future. They are reshaping us as humans. Do we allow it? Do we find another path?

you feel me_ opens on 1 November 2019.

Cover image: Andrés Sánchez Gallque, The Mulatto Gentlemen of Esmereldas (1599).

Leibsohn, Dana, and Barbara E. Mundy, Vistas: Visual Culture in Spanish America, 1520-1820.http://www.fordham.edu/vistas, 2015.