On Air

Written by caroline

In 2013, Devine was commissioned by The Open University to make an artwork for the ‘University of the Air’ Project. Four commissions were awarded – one in each region of the UK. On Air was a large scale multi-channel outdoor sound installation for The Open University Campus in Walton Hall. The work commemorated the 50 year anniversary of Harold Wilson’s University of the Air speech with a particular focus on the research areas of design and technology.

Devine found the idea of a network of knowledge, thought and enquiry that was accessible to all a very compelling notion and wanted to ‘electrify’ or bring the air to life throughout the site – as though the output of the university remained floating on the air currents around the campus and had been made temporarily audible by the work. She constructed an acoustic layer comprising archive and learning materials, interviews, field recordings and musical elements woven into a composition that literally floated on the air currents around the university. Over 100 speakers were sited in bushes, trees and walkways, completely transforming the space without visual trace. A visitor could experience this ephemeral and mutable work as though they had been enabled to cross a sensory barrier and pick up ordinarily imperceptible signals and residual echoes of knowledge, data, lines of enquiry and research generated by the University.

On Air was presented for a period of five days during which invited visitors, Open University staff and the general public were free to wander throughout the campus to experience the work. In addition to a printed soundmap, an app was developed to aid navigation of the work and made available free of charge for visitors to download from the iTunes app store.

Responses to the work

The panel were bowled over by her proposal and presentation, identifying a talented artist with an extraordinary aptitude for thoughtful and imaginative workings with environmental, musical and historical sound. The project was very well received by both the public and the internal Open University audience, and affirming Devine’s notable talent to push the boundaries between what is perceived as sound, music, art and installation.

Prof Gill Perry, commissioner, The Open University

On Air was an incredibly ambitious and engaging new work by an artist undoubtedly at the top of her game. Her microscopic attention to detail, endless curiosity and playfulness, created a work that both deeply connected with the radical history and ongoing research of one of the country’s most respected educational institutes and re-imagined its physical site as a space for potentially limitless sonic experiences. It was a true joy and something that I will remember for some time.

Simon Wright, Curator, Public Programmes, MK Gallery

It has inspired me to think about how different sounds can be manipulated to make music.

Dan Stock, student, Walton High School

On Air was shortlisted for a BASCA British Composer Award (Sonic Arts Category) in 2014.