Sounds of the City

JI 19 14_300_2

Se Compra: Sin é

Jaki Irvine 2014

HD DVD 17 mins 37 seconds

Courtesy the artist and Frith Street Gallery, London

Photos: Alex Delfanne


A man on the radio says:

many of those who survived concentration camps

kept their spirits up by singing:




even as guards struck a match,

lit cigarettes,

stubbed them out on tabletops,


as bedclothes scratched and books fell from shelves,

as chairs overturned in an upstairs room,

as a princess turned on a child’s musical box,


as they were rounded up and herded into trucks,

as the wheels turned,

as they were jostled, swayed and bumped,


as they heard knives sharpen,

as the rain fell,

as the sun went down,

as a whistle blew,

even then.


Pat Gilbey


Sounds of the City

I hear the door close behind me as I leave The Mary Ward Centre. Two men in fluorescent green jackets laugh briefly as they plod down the narrow street. A taxi trails past, its instantly recognisable drone and the slowing of the engine as it reaches the junction. As I approach I hear the sudden flurry of multitudinous engines competing, vying for position on the road. The sirens join the cacophony, interrupting the monotony. A sense of urgency ignored in its normality. Will the cars move over? The lorry now tailgating the fire engine – the whole world is in a hurry. In the mix the constant sound of footfall, the rubber soles padding the pavement, not sneaking but storming. The single crutch gently and helplessly feeling the ground, looking for safety, it’s vulnerability an open wound. The sirens get louder, they are here – the noise stops, the doors thud open, the feet land quietly and efficiently on the ground- they have done it a thousand times. More footfall and always phones. Yes always phones – not ringing, but the recipients of the only voices I hear. We talk to phones. There’s emptiness in this sadness. Its not the listening that hurts, it’s the sounds that weep.

Nearing my destination, I ask the street cleaner, shuffling along with his tin on wheels, rattling, rolling, the brush sticking out the top,

‘Which one is Golden Square?’

Smiling he gives me perfect directions and moves on.

A taxi quietly comes to a halt. The engine purrs on but no door opens and no horn bleats. A Golden Labrador is crouched defiantly in the middle of the street, blocking the taxi completely, whilst he completes his dump. A poignant response to the promotion in the shop window: LET NATURE TAKE ITS COURSE That’s all it takes to bring this moving soulless monotone to a grinding halt – a single shit!

Inside the Frith St.Gallery in Soho Square, the exhibition by Jaki Irvine tantalises my senses on so many levels: the heart-wrenching music, the conveyor belt of emotion. The weeping sounds of the violin and cello and the eerily mournful lost voice echo the concentrated faces of the people as they move in their mission. The bells of the key cutter shout for attention, the blade sharpener sounds panpipes, announcing his arrival. The roll of the oil drum as it’s shuffled along the street. The urgent barking and howling of the dogs, ignored in its normality, protecting the scrap metal from the hungry eyes of the garbage collectors. The man wailing as though in a cry to prayer or is he Romeo seeking his Juliet? Pan pipes again and the searching response of more echo out. The old lady, all in black perched loftily in the back of the open-top black pickup truck, regally holding up her black parasol in defense of the sun as she circles the city. The girl defiantly holding up the traffic as she stubbornly continues her hula-hooping on the zebra crossing, demanding attention, seeking appreciation and reward for her gallant efforts. This is a city loud in defiance, with soul and purpose, its heart proud on its sleeve.

I leave and am unexpectedly surrounded by silence as I lock into the myriad of thoughts that now embrace my mind. It isn’t looking that hurts, it’s the living that weeps.

Geraldine Cornwall


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