AIR MATTERS: Learning from Heathrow
October 3, 2019 – January 5, 2020 everyday and eves
The air is partitioned, apportioned, and legislated like any other part of the environment. At Europe’s busiest airport, London Heathrow, the requirements of the aviation industry collide with those of daily suburban life rendering the air a site of significant contestation. For some, it is a hypermodern space of networks, flow, and transit where routines and daily rhythms are structured around economic priorities. For others, it is what they must breathe. Diverse uses of the air within a single neighbourhood create a significant societal challenge that has implications for sustainable development, well-being, and human dignity. If these are considerations for policy at national and supra-national levels, then there is a need for fresh though.
Air Matters responds to this challenge with newly commissioned artworks, walking tours, workshops and a symposium. It brings together artists, community groups, industry professionals and scholars in order to connect approaches and generate new ideas. It will be of interest to all those who have a stake in the Heathrow environment and for whom art is a gateway to its discovery and transformation.
Kate Carr Nick Ferguson Mathew Flintham
Magz Hall Hermione Spriggs & Laura Cooper Louise K Wilson
Curated by Dr Nicholas Ferguson in collaboration with Klio Krajewska at Watermans Arts Centre.
Supported by: ACE and Kingston University
Press enquiries: Erica Weston. firstname.lastname@example.org
For further information on the programme and accompanying events please visit
Kate Carr. Ascending Composition 1 (For planes). Mixed media, 2019
The airspace surrounding Heathrow is partitioned both vertically and horizontally. Ascending Composition 1 (For planes) seeks to reflect on the governance of this space by using sound to infiltrate its forbidden zones. Working with the conception of the air as a contested space, this artwork inverts the relationship of residents subject to the vagaries of aircraft noise by using helium balloons and kite tail sound systems to take the terrestrial sounds of Heathrow’s neighbourhoods into the sky. The three kite tail sound systems shuffle through recordings taken in residential and natural areas surrounding the airport, creating a shifting soundscape intended for broadcast along the flight path. In a world where both who gets to make noise and enjoy silence is so tied to wealth and corporate influence, this work seeks to carve out a moment where forgotten, over-powered and fragile sounds take flight. The composition is broadcast via the balloon-elevated kite tails in Watermans gallery.
Nick Ferguson. Capsule. Mixed media, 2019
Capsule is a 0.7 scale model of an aircraft landing gear compartment accompanied by a set of photographic prints. Suspended from the ceiling and occupying a central part of the gallery, the model is proposed as an auditorium/immersive space which evokes the original, that belonging to a Boeing 777 plane. The prints show samples of material gathered forensically from a wheel bay of Ethiad Airways Boeing 777-200LR A6-LRC upon retirement in the UK in March 2019. Captured under an electron microscope, the sample includes sand, spores, seeds, insects, and fragments of reflective runway paint which have become trapped and transported from one part of the world to another. Learn more: http://nickferguson.co.uk/cavity/
Magz Hall. Skyport. Mixed media, 2019
Skyport takes its name from the pirate radio station Skyport Radio which broadcast from a garden shed under the Heathrow flightpath between 1971 and 1979. The commission extends the artist’s enquiry into the contested nature of radio frequencies and their governance. In the skies above London private transmissions from air traffic control compete for wavelength with a range of public transmissions, both pirate and licenced, and indeed, the AM spectrum is dominated by the airport’s transmissions. While these transmissions are available for all to hear, in the UK it is both illegal to listen to them and to relay what has been heard to a third party. In defiance of these regulations, aviation enthusiasts eavesdrop on air traffic control and there is a burgeoning market for the scanning technologies that make it possible. On display for Skyport is a set of scanners and a plasma screen showing in wave form current air traffic radio activity. A blog for the project research can be found at https://magzhall.wordpress.com/skyport/
Matthew Flintham. Heathrow (Volumetric Airspace Structures). Mixed media, 2019
Heathrow (Volumetric Airspace Structures) is a planning table showing a map of the Greater London area and focused on the land surrounding Heathrow. The shape of the table is defined by the limits of the London airspace control zone which consists of two intersecting irregular rectangles combining rounded edges and hard corners. The map shows the major traffic routes across central and west London, as well as the polygonal restricted and controlled airspace zone over Heathrow. The map also extends vertically, projecting the airspace zones into three dimensions, revealing the invisible volumetric structures that define the London skies. In this way the structure becomes an extension of the map following its stylist design and iconography.
Hermione Spriggs and Laura Cooper. The Substitute. Mixed media, 2019
The Substitute is a sci-fi ghost story responding to the “bird free” environment of Heathrow Airport. Narrated through the disembodied voice of Tannoy speakers common to airport announcements and sonic pest control, The Substitute explores the spectral transformation of birds as we know them into data bodies and zombie-like decoys.
Louise K Wilson. Frequency. Mixed media, 2019
Frequency is a multi-channel audio installation accompanied by a set of drawings. Voice and field recordings are combined to explore the affective and ‘felt’ experience of air travel. Verbal accounts from passengers describing emotions (primarily those) experienced just after take off and landing are undercut with a layer of location (field) recordings. Both have been recorded and rendered into an ASMR (‘autonomous sensory meridian response’) register (ASMR recordings are typically created with the intention of stimulating a tingling and relaxing sensation). Elsewhere, recordings of the sonic fallout collected from the Airport provide a ‘darker’ background for the presence and effect of aviation. The material for the accompanying postcard drawings has been sourced from photographs distributed on social media showing passengers’ window views of clouds. Overall, Frequency points to a set of contradictory positions concerning our desire for air travel.
The exhibition will be accompanied by the following workshops:
Listening to Signals in the Air. Saturday October 5. Please join design writer and maker Jane Norris to design and build listening devices. The devices will enhance hearing, help pick up signals and capture everyday airborne sounds that might otherwise pass unnoticed.
Heathrow Sound Walks. Saturday October 12 & 26, 2019. Please join artist Kate Carr in search of sound, atmospheres and airborne life in the Heathrow suburbs. You will learn to conduct fieldwork and make audio recordings.
Artworks for Birds. Saturday October 19, 2019. Please join artist and anthropologist Hermione Spriggs and artist Laura Cooper to explore bird experiences of the air and exchange ideas on how rethinking animal-human relations can be passed on through art and design education.
The Politics of Air. Saturday November 9, 2019. 10:00 – 18:00
Watermans Arts Centre invites you to join us for a day of presentations, discussions and debates on the politics of air in the Heathrow neighbourhood. What are the local cultures of air use? How does the air shape our societies, and how democratically is it governed? How is the air fought over and by whom? What ethical questions around air use, noise and air pollution do planners face and how might we equip them to shape its future?
We will bring together perspectives from the audience, community representatives, industry professionals and academics across the arts, geography, environmental science and politics. The ambition is an event of international significance in which participants define challenges, generate strategic questions, and instigate new approaches to the struggle over air.
Keynote: Keynote: Professor Derek McCormack, Professor of Cultural Geography, Oxford University. Author of Atmospheric Things. On The Allure of Elemental Envelopment. Duke University Press, 2018.