Cornered Stories: identity, sound and space

Really enjoyed contributing to the Cornered Stories project, bringing together a bunch of very talented artists and illustrators, as well as people like me, with no arts background but a liking for concepts, and space. More here on my audio project ‘Fifth Corner’, for audio files more here.

Curator Charlie Levine interviewing contributor Carina Schneider

Charlie: Carina, you and I have often talked about ‘space’ and how we fit within it, whether physically or metaphorically.  We’re aware of our surroundings and our place within it on and off line. How do you think your past experiences and studies have helped shaped the way you think about space? And in turn corners? Also, you currently work at The Bartlett and have a lot of experience of working with architects and the built environment, when thinking about buildings and the city scape what are your thoughts and perceptions about the corners we encounter? How do you relate to the city environment? And how do you traverse it?

Carina: There are two ways in which I tend to think about ‘space’: for one, as political. Political in the way we use it, traverse it, we are empowered or disempowered to navigate, create, manage or control space, and how its creation and use is limited by those who control it for us, and inequalities created, from issues of private ownership of public spaces, to surveillance, to development and gentrification. Both through my academic work as well as working for places such as Groundwork, I have always had an interest in the divide between the governance of space and the way it is used and can be appropriated by civil society, and how to bridge this.

The other is the interplay of space with the shaping of narratives, histories, memories, identities and belonging, which perhaps derives from my own experience of being foreign and the process of displacement and reestablishing identities. The way that people’s trajectories and narratives, their relationship to the grids and spaces, encounters with people and ideas guide their movements become storytelling in space. I find the layering of histories and memories, the potential of pathways and encounters, the temporary manifestations in space that stay with us fascinating. Corners in this context are spaces where these manifestations concentrate: places where people wait and observe, listen accidentally, people meet but also part into multiple directions, people cross over in endless combinations of paths and stories.

Charlie: For this project you are looking at and exploring the city as a global space. The idea of a single city potentially being home to all corners of the world. What about this appealed to you and why have you proposed this idea to Cornered Stories?

Carina: I wanted to do something that connected experiences of language, identity and space – three things that I am very interested in, both as an immigrant and as someone who has always been fascinated by the idea of what constitutes identity and what discourses shape the idea of ‘the other’ and ‘elsewhere’, particularly in places where a myriad of people crossover. I enjoy playing with the idea of identity because it is such a shapeshifting concept, of varying degrees of meaning and importance. Listening to the audio we don’t know much about the characters or languages, but we will make conclusions about their location and story, just as we would in an encounter, without having any reference point.

There is something almost entirely dislocated and transnational about the experience of cosmopolitan cities today, where everyone carries traces of different places, beliefs, stories with them in entirely different measures and meets in one place to simply pass by or to interact, then departs again into a different context.

I looked up the origins of the expression ‘four corners of the world’, which led me to the idea that in many non-European traditions there are five, not four cardinal directions: the fifth being the centre, a meeting point where they cross.

Charlie: Carrying on with this project, you’re delving into new realms of visualisation and interpretation – having not got a formal arts background you have chosen to visually depict the sounds you have recorded and have them side by side. Can you tell us more about this process and how you ended up here with this project?

Carina:  I just wanted to take the idea of how we’re tempted to classify information a step further, of how we perceive it and match it to our ideas of something, even if we don’t understand or have no knowledge of the context or ‘the other’. I really just started playing around with ways of how else the audio could be ‘translated’ and then ‘read’ and wanted to find a method that was scientifically representative but to most of us will be as abstract and disorientating as a piece of art.

For me that is the cathartic quality of art, the possibility to be confronted by something so abstract that allows a disengagement from the well-trodden paths of thought and judgement that often makes us miss out on the more real, transient, fragmented essence of things.

When I saw the spectrogram images I was surprised at how different they were and again invited interpretation, even if it was interpretation of something we still don’t understand and can’t read, teasing us with the promise of meaning making but ultimately remaining as they are, unreadable. At the same time I think they’re quite beautiful objects which relay something of the ethereal, intangible nature of language, space and identity. Some of them perhaps even evoke a notion of structure or space.

CharlieAnd what next? Where do you see this project developing and how has it influenced your every day work?

Carina: I’ve enjoyed contributing and being able to develop my ideas into project form. The process for me as someone without an arts background was really interesting because I’m more or less unaware of the conventions that surround artistic practices, so it was a bit of a throw into the unknown – which is something that I enjoy doing anyway. I was surprised how the product was actually about themes that concern me and the areas of knowledge I have worked within before, such as language, communications, identity, place. To a certain extent it actually helped me find a conceptual framework for myself.

I’d like to develop the idea further, perhaps in different locations and across other types of media.