BY Chris Sharratt in Reviews | 14 SEP 20

Ghosts in the Machine: Six Artists Respond to Glasgow’s Shifting Soundscapes

A series of audio works, commissioned by The Common Guild, explores the social impact of COVID-19, with contributions from Sulaïman Majali and Ashanti Harris among others

BY Chris Sharratt in Reviews | 14 SEP 20

‘Where are we?’ It’s a question, an imploring wail, repeated for 12 of the 18 minutes that make up Sulaïman Majali’s strange winds (2020), one of seven audio pieces commissioned by The Common Guild for its online lockdown project ‘In the Open’. Conceived as a response to the social impact of COVID-19, ‘In the Open’ includes contributions from six Glasgow-based artists, including the Turner Prize-nominated filmmaker Luke Fowler whose documentary portraits bookend the series.

Together, the works capture something of the time slippage and uncertainty of the pandemic, of life’s normal rhythms curtailed and contorted. Sonically, they reference the city parks and other outdoor spaces that became so vital during lockdown: leaves rustle, birds sing, footsteps are heard, voices drift. The narratives that emerge reveal connections in both the present and past: Margaret Salmon’s Clouded (2020) finds catharsis and delight in the urban flow of Glasgow’s River Kelvin; for History Haunts the Body (2020), Ashanti Harris highlights Scotland’s role in slavery with the stories of four Guyanese women from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Sharratt 1
Sulaïman Majali, strange winds, 2020, accompanying image to audio work. Courtesy: the artist and The Common Guild, Glasgow 

Majali’s glitchy, auto-tuned sound trip merges the natural and the artificial. It is a time-travelling ghost in the machine, a roaming spirit making digital contact via mobile phone. We are, suggests the artist in the work’s accompanying notes, on a hill, watching the sun rise. A woman whispers, reciting an excerpt from The Tale of the Wazir of King Yunan and Rayyan the Doctor, taken from a 1704 English translation of the Arabic-language folk anthology, One Thousand and One Nights. Mistrust, anger, the possibility of betrayal – all hang in the air, swirling around like a darkly humming threat. strange winds drips with discomfiting tension, heavy with the weight of all that has come before – and what may come next. Where are we? The answer, of course, remains unclear.

‘In the Open’ features work by Luke Fowler, Lauren Gault, Ashanti Harris, Sulaïman Majali, Duncan Marquiss and Margaret Salmon.

Main image: Ashanti Harris, History Haunts the Body, 2020, accompanying image to audio work. Courtesy: the artist and The Common Guild, Glasgow.

Chris Sharratt is a freelance writer and editor based in Glasgow. Follow him on Twitter: @chrissharratt