Listening to Katie Paterson’s piece Vatnajokull I had a number on reactions. Firstly it’s fascinating to hear the sound of glaciers, thousands of miles away breaking apart. We find ourselves suddenly able to hear a sound from a place we might otherwise never encounter. The phone line provides a link to a place which most of us have little consideration or concept of. As I continued to listen the extract I noticed that after a few minutes it had become background noise. The sound itself is soothing, almost lulling to me, ironic when it’s the sound of glaciers melting, and all the chaos that climate change entails.
She explores the sense of place in creating a work which exists in multiple places, there’s the actual live recording happening in the Jökulsárlón lagoon, an outlet lagoon of the glacier Vatnajökull in Iceland. Then there’s the representation of place in a phone number, linking you to the physicality of the recording in the lagoon. But then it seems in some exhibitions, namely the Frieze exhibition in New York 2012, that the artist introduces further work to help viewers engage with the issue of place by including film footage of the glacier in Iceland.
I discovered that the piece seemed to evolve over time, the initial showing of the piece was in her MFA show at Slade in 2007, and viewers were faced with the Neon sign of the phone number, and presumably some explanatory text. But over the course of the exhibition added to the piece were records of all the numbers of people who had called the phone line in Iceland, 10,000 in total!
In considering Paterson’s use of text I wonder why she chose to use a Neon Sign to display the phone number? Neon as a medium has for me such strong associations with commercialism, advertising, attention seeking, perhaps it seemed a good medium to hold the viewers gaze and demand their interaction with the piece?
I found an article about the Artist in Vice Magazine online which helped me to see a range of Paterson’s work. In works like, ‘100 Billion Suns’ and ‘All the Dead Stars’ we see her preoccupation with capturing elements of space, or the universe and giving them a proximity, putting them into ‘a place’ in visible tangible art works for us to begin to try and capture a sense of what ‘space’ consists of. I found it all really fascinating and illuminating!