Entirely Hollow Aside From The Dark: A Review by Kiya Cussans (Nottingham Trent University)

As Gandhi once said: “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.” A quote that is underused, disregarded and a quote that isn’t entirely understood; but walking into that cave, that quote made more sense to me than it ever did.

Friday 19th July 2019
Picture Credit Stephen Garnett – CAG Photography
Picture Shows
An immersive sound installation in darkness will bring a whole new experience with heightened senses of hearing for visitors to five special evenings in one of Creswell Crags’caves, when the pitch-black caves become the setting for an audio artwork by visual and environmental artist, Alan James Burns.

Entirely Hollow Aside from the Dark was more than just an experience, it was an understanding and connection-forming performance about everything we know we do and yet still abuse and adhere to really acknowledge. We hear politicians, groups, campaigns about environmental change, but this installation was the purest form of sense that I’ve ever come to know. Not only did it express the issues we face with our greed of the environment, the artist said the work also intends to ‘break down the stigma that surrounds mental health’, which was done with absolute and immeasurable enormity.

Walking into that cave I had no idea of what to expect, whether it would just be another environmental message that would be lost soon after observing, but I could not comprehend the intensity that would become so engraved into my own mind. As we took a short walk through the gorge to get to the cave, the atmosphere was already apparent. The low light of my surroundings, the light reflection of the moon on the water, the little sounds from the wind breezing through the trees and hearing the slight ripples of the water, I already felt like I was walking into an atmospheric milieu and began to clear my mind of any prior thought I had. We arrived at the base steps leading to the cave and at that point, silence consumed every one of us. The silence was just as intense as the clear and powerful sound of breath coming from the very depth of the cave, as if the mouth of the cave was as real as a mouth can physically be. The sounds I was experiencing on the walk were as if they were never heard at all, but completely blurred out by the sound pushing beyond the blackness of the cave. As we walked up the steps and through to the back of the cave in pure darkness with our tiny little torches which barely gave us any sense of sight, the cold shifting through the cave felt as if Mother Earth was real, as if the sound and breeze was all her, and it made me nervous when we finally reached the point where all our senses were about to be switched off suddenly. One by one our only source of comfort was switched off, leaving us in a pitch black setting with a fear of uncertainty. My time was shortly spent in the darkness, but the intensity was something that will be everlasting. As she began to speak, it was the strangest feeling. I felt the very struggle, the very pain coming from a voice that was aggrieved with distress and confusion, a disorientation of thoughts that nearly made me lose my own footing as she became frantic with expression. Though the space was filled with people, I felt alone.

Friday 19th July 2019
Picture Credit Stephen Garnett – CAG Photography
Picture Shows
An immersive sound installation in darkness will bring a whole new experience with heightened senses of hearing for visitors to five special evenings in one of Creswell Crags’caves, when the pitch-black caves become the setting for an audio artwork by visual and environmental artist, Alan James Burns.

With nothing surrounding me but the darkness and chill, disallowing me to engage in any sense other than that of sound, even then it was as if I wasn’t hearing external sounds at all. It was as if I heard Mother Earth’s voice in my mind as if it were my own, as if the cave wasn’t an auditorium of an art installation but the entrance to a mind that has been encased and locked away for so long. That voice was personified by the fractures of the cave walls, echoing through what was once an empty, damp space; instilling this deterioration of her mental health with frazzled and aggressive thoughts, crying out about her suffering from man-made damages on her body. The force of the words all playing at once from different directions and different levels of intensity became a scramble within my own mind.

Alanjames Burns said he wanted to embrace the physical and mental principle of wellbeing and he did so. It made me think of every person who has or is struggling with mental health with the frantic nature being within my own head, and it was one of the clearest, most unique and artistic form of expression I’ve ever experienced. Never have I felt such a strong connection with those that suffer, but never have I felt such a connection with the Earth itself, as if Mother Earth was really present in that darkness.

As I left that cave I left feeling in disarray and confusion of what had just happened. How an installation of such simplicity using audio, sound shifts and sensory deprivation could really make me feel so deeply as if I have just single handedly been through all that trauma of Mother Earth’s damage. As I left that cave it imparted this realisation that many of us lack, the true reality of every man’s greed and the reality that thought isn’t just a notion of dialogue, but something that can impart such force, such supremacy, such control over us that really can deteriorate every man’s self.

Kiya Cussans (Nottingham Trent University: Centre for Broadcasting and Journalism Placement Student)