From 3rd to 7th September 2019, Creswell Crags will host Entirely hollow aside from the dark, a psychoacoustic conceptual art installation from Irish artist AlanJames Burns. Here, we interview Alan ahead of the performances. Tickets are still available via www.entirelyhollowasidefromthedark.com  

AlanJames Burns in Robin Hood Cave.
[Stephen Garnett – CAG Photography]

1.Tell us a bit about yourself. How does your personal story lead to Entirely hollow aside from the dark?
I am a visual artist working primarily through audio, virtual reality and performance. I live and work in the Fire Station Artists’ Studios, a former fire station in Dublin, Ireland. I’m interested in consciousness and how multimedia technology can be used to further our understanding of one’s inner experience. One day while taking part in Resort Revelations art residency in north Dublin I was walking the coastline of the small seaside town of Portrane, and I was thinking about, well, the act of thinking! The tide happened to be out and I stumbled across Smugglers’ Cave, it was in that moment that the initial idea sparked to map consciousness to the inside of caves. When we are ‘inside our heads’, do we speak in monologue or dialogue? Do our thoughts emerge in a linear process or are they sporadic?; Do we humans ever stop thinking? As a visual artist, I think about these questions through making, research & collaboration.

2. What can audiences expect to experience?
Entirely hollow aside from the dark is a completely immersive 30 minute multi-channel sound installation that takes place in darkness in the Robin Hood Cave at Creswell Crags. Your engagement with the work begins when you book a ticket and arrive on site at the Creswell Crags Museum. It is here that you are given the bespoke induction to the experience, safety instructions and and a small torch to help guide you on your journey to the caves. As you are walking into the mouth of the cave, the cave is breathing. Once everyone gets settled, we journey deeper into the body of Mother Earth together, the heart beat, sounds of lungs and blood passes through the cave until we hear the voice! In the darkness, the audible inner dialogue echoing Mother Earth’s thoughts, unfolding regrets and a symphony of choreographed sounds shifts around the cave, mirroring processes of the human mind. The artwork is a journey, it is an immersive sensory experience. The audience leave to the sound of the cave breathing, just as they entered.

3. Mother Earth is an important theme for the work. Can you tell us why that’s so important?
Using the cave as a physical metaphor for the mind, the cavern personifies the consciousness of Mother Earth as she struggles with her worsening health, brought on by the human impact on her body. Entirely hollow aside from the dark aims to encourage environmental awareness, and sustainability through engagement with people on that personal level. By voicing imagined words of Mother Earth, inside Mother Earth, we hope to inspire empathic relation. We need Earth. To borrow words from former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “There can be no plan B because there is no planet B,” we all need to act today and every single day thereafter to protect against climate change.

AlanJames Burns in Robin Hood Cave
[Stephen Garnett – CAG Photography]
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4. And you’ve made changes in your own life related to sustainability and the environment, as part of this project. What are they?
We are over-producing in every sector including the arts. I am continuously examining my modes of production and the kinds of materials I use, seeking more sustainable solutions every step of the way. In developing this project I have worked with sound engineers and electricians to devise a low voltage audio system, which has a low impact on the environment. While working on the project for Creswell Crags, my team and I will travel by train & boat rather than fly and we have adopted a plant based diet. I also embed climate action into my way of working with businesses, partners and suppliers. Engaging with them about their packaging or methods of production and transit, suggesting different ways they could become more sustainable. I let them know I am always looking for alternative options with more sustainable product solutions. In addition, in my own daily life, I am living as near a plastic-free lifestyle as I can.

5. Are there any other themes the audience should be prepared to engage with?
Another really key theme of the work is mental health. I worked with cognitive psychologists, neurologists, voice hearers and anthropologists in the structural and content development of the artwork. In redeveloping the work for Creswell Crags I am working with Claire Howlin, music psychology researcher and Irish Research Council funded scholar. Through these collaborations the project embraces the physical and mental principles of wellbeing and addresses themes of stress in the context of everyday life and mental illness. The natural and calming environment of the cave reduces sound and light pollution creating an opportunity to demonstrate different states of mind, encouraging biophilia and sleep aspects of wellbeing. Entirely hollow aside from the dark aims to contribute in breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health by encouraging discourse.

6. Why did you choose Creswell Crags? Historically, caves have played a vital role in the simultaneous evolution of creativity and abstract thought. This has been a conceptual underpinning to the artworks development. Creswell Crags is home to the British Isles only examples of Ice Age Rock Art. It also recently made a significant cultural discovery of hundreds of Witches’ Marks. These are thought to be the biggest concentration of apotropaic marks, or symbols to ward off evil or misfortune, ever found in the UK. Having the opportunity to create an artwork about human consciousness within the historical and cultural significance of Creswell Crags is a privilege and a major highlight in my career to date.

7. What do you hope will be the legacy of Entirely hollow aside from the dark at Creswell Crags?
I developed this version of the artwork specifically for Creswell Crags, and I hope it resonates with the people of the surrounding neighbourhoods and communities to further the discussions on sustainability and environmentally friendly choices we can all make. I would love to develop the work for other heritage sites of natural beauty, I have researched many caves in the UK that have the potential to stage this artwork. A UK tour, or even European tour would be a wonderful legacy of this UK debut of Entirely hollow aside from the dark at Creswell Crags.

8. What’s next for you, as an artist?
My next project is ‘Silicon Synapse’, a Virtual Reality installation set in the disused and historic Carnegie Library, Swords, Dublin opening in November 2019. It will simulate a journey into the personified, conscious mind of ‘Technology’, where you will hear the inner dialogue of ‘Technology’s’ mind as it ruminates over both sides of a lovers’ quarrel. ‘Technology’ and its life partner ‘Nature’ argue about the sustainability of their relationship and their future as a couple. siliconsynapse.net

AlanJames Burns at Creswell Crags
[Stephen Garnett – CAG Photography]