New Welsh Review

Anthony Shapland: A Sound Not Meant To Be Heard

Ellen Bell

PUBLISHED ON: 06/03/18


TAGS: art, music, silence, sound

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If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heartbeat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.
George Eliot, Middlemarch

A plastic yellow sign warning of cleaning in progress is blocking the entrance to Oriel Davies’ main gallery. A woman comes into view wielding a mop and humming. She smiles and calls out, Morning. The large screen is black in the centre of Anthony Shapland’s principal exhibit, ‘A Sound Not Meant To Be Heard’, a triptych of three monitors, two of which rest on a roll of grey carpet. Is it on? Ah, the stress of technology. Is it working? A clip clip of heels. Yes, says the receptionist snapping the sign shut, you can sit down here. The screen begins to glow red.

The sounds come first: a jangling train on a track, the crunch of footsteps on gravel, then the images. A ‘rough’-looking man in a hoodie, his breath misting up a train carriage window, then the same man peeing into bushes under a railway arch. There is birdsong. The man is back on the train. Then he is walking, swinging a blue plastic bag. He walks through woodland, pulling burrs off his hoodie. He comes to an apple tree, and filling his bag with the windfalls, he hurls them one by one into a stream.

The film is beautiful to watch. Its pace is slow, attentive as it zooms in on lichen-covered branches, the apples coursing along the water and the man’s bearded face.

Only two of the monitors are visible from the seat, the one showing the film and another on the floor beneath what looks like a teleprompter. Here a series of sentences are being relayed. Slowly, rhythmically, they appear and then disappear. I mirror him, I mimic him. I take pictures here. The same sentences are being relayed on the teleprompter but mirrored and therefore backwards.

The man is on high ground now, in a field standing amongst wild fell horses. Suddenly all sounds cease. The camera pans into his face and he is shouting, bellowing, screaming in silence.

What of the third monitor? The film has begun again. The same sounds can be heard: the train, the footsteps, the peeing. Here the screen has been split into four, transmitting four different views of what appears to be a makeshift recording studio. Staring intently at a screen of the self-same film is a man in cut-off trousers. In each of the four pictures he’s treading on a matting of plastic fibres, crouching and rocking a bulk of car parts, tugging at a garment and pouring liquid from a watering can.

None of the sounds have been real. All have been manufactured, made up. Frank L Baum’s The Wizard of Oz is once again exposed. Shapland’s sleight of hand is masterful. And observing the sound technician’s craft is utterly spell-binding.

Good art, visionary art, necessarily strips away at the skin of our complacency, our settled-for reality. And Shapland’s art is good. But such flaying is an uncomfortable process to go through at the best of times. Now made raw, one not only becomes unable to distinguish fact from fiction but Eliot’s roar has become a cacophony.

The show’s elegant, pared-back curation and Shapland’s exquisite series of prints on aluminium, ‘Heartbeat’, ‘Creak’ and ‘Wind Through Leaves’ merit time and attention. But the seemingly constant, high-pitched keening of the singer as she tries to shatter a wine glass in the video ‘A Sharp Intake of Breath’, playing in Gallery 2, is beginning to jar. Alas, as the composer John Cage wrote, ‘Try as we may to make a silence, we cannot….’


Ellen Bell is an artist and writer living in Aberystwyth.

This exhibition runs at Oriel Davies Gallery, Newtown, until 11 April. Pictured ‘Wind Through Leaves’, 2017