Notes from the Underground

Young British artist talks to Dazed Digital about his current exhibition, harmonising with Hoovers and turning cathedrals into wine glasses.

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BFA Ruskin graduate, Oliver Beer, has already gathered an impressive body of work at the tender age of 24. With forays into the world of sculpture and drawing, Beer’s most recent and prolific work, ‘The Resonance Project’, presents two central strands to his practice: photography and video. An ongoing series of performances and films, the project uses the human voices to stimulate architectural spaces, forcing them to resound at their resonant frequencies, like a wine glass sings at the tip of a finger. Working within extraordinary architectural contexts, ranging from the austere interior of a Renaissance monastery to the transparent skyline tunnels of the Pompidou centre, his current exhibition Deep and Meaningful takes his audience to the underbelly of Brighton, and through its Victorian sewer network.
 
Featuring a series of photographs and audio-visual installations, the exhibit culminates in a striking video composition of a male choir humming within a sewer tunnel, stimulating its frequency. The juxtaposition of quasi-religious harmonies of the choir, repeatedly singing the word ‘Amen’, against the harsh, urban landscape of the sewer makes for some truly thought-provoking footage.
 
The winner of the Saatchi Gallery’s ‘New Sensations’ 2009 and subject of documentaries by Channel 4 and the BBC, Beer talks to us about the drive behind his project.
 
DD: What was your inspiration behind the project?
OB: The origins of the project came from when I was much younger. I would sing in the shower and find that the cubicle would resound and would often do things like try to harmonise with the Hoover. Later I developed these ideas by working with choirs and found that the relationship between bodies and space was something quite emotive. It was these intellectual and emotional responses that really fascinated me and I wanted to explore how it would work in a variety of different and exciting spaces.
 
DD: Have you ever had any formal musical training?
OB: Before I went to the Ruskin, I was studying at the Academy of Contemporary Music, mainly focusing on composition. But I knew I always wanted to go Art College, so while I was at ACM, I spent most of my time working on my art!
 
DD: Was photography and film always your primary focus?
Well when I arrived at the Ruskin, I originally had a strong interest in sculpture, but gradually gravitated towards film and photography, and it is the most prolific area for me at the moment. I have always been attracted to drawing too, because it essentially trains your eye and underpins composition. Its like building muscles, because the less drawing I do, the more flaccid the muscles become.
 
DD: What sorts of artists inspire you?
At the moment, Steve McQueen, the artist not the movie star. And Sam Mendes. I find that he is the kind of person that has such an inspiring character that it reinforces your belief in his work. In general, I find it quite hard to single out individual artists, because there is rarely one that is the paradigm of their skill consistently throughout their work.
 
DD: So do you have any future projects in the pipe-line (no pun intended)?
One day I would love to use the cupola at St. Paul’s cathedral, and transform it into an enormous wineglass, making it resound of its own accord. But in the immediate future, I’m off to Paris to take up a rather informal residency at a beautiful artists squat. I think Paris will be a good way to let it all sink in, given how much has happened in the past couple of years. I still feel extremely young in heart and mind, and all the attention my work has received regards me as a mature artist, when actually I’m still in the process of figuring things out.
 
Oliver Beer, Deep and Meaningful, is on show upstairs at 20 Hoxton Square Projects until July 24 2010. Admission free. Open 11am-6pm Tuesday to Friday (from 12pm Saturday).
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