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Katharine Meynell

Sound work


Made as part of Spin, a sound and live art event curated by Sarah Wang for the British Library, Meynell's Story, overwrites existing spaces with a web of new fictions made from old facts. The listener is caught somewhere between the real and the surreal where prosaic objects and locations are linked to fictional worlds.

'Meynell took narrative as her starting point but, using a collage of historical and oral history form the NSA, constructed a cod guided tour of the library, in which she re-spun not simply the history of the library and it's collection but also the geographical and political location of its inheritance.'

Starting with a disclaimer - a letter to her audience telling us that she has made up a lot of what we are about to hear - Meynell directed users on an individual audio tour by providing instructions on a personal stereo. As each person followed the sound of her footsteps on the tape different voices and sounds interrupted the artist's calm instruction to look at a painting, notice the quality of a stone fa├žade. The 'truth of an excerpt from the NSA oral history collection was contrasted with the pure fiction of Meynell's retelling: artworks were misattributed, architectural detail was realigned. From the blatantly fictional (that there is a swimming pool, under the library, that King George 111 had a collection of porcelain dolls) to the more surreptitiously posed (that the library has a policy of collecting works by women), the tour poked fun at the use of historical fact to garner the assurity of history whilst at the same time making some clear political points (why does the library not have a policy of collecting work by women?). The tour passes by mock polaroid photographs (signaling a kind of currency unavailable to historical fact) which acted as visual puns and were placed politely on notice boards and other public points of use. Into this collage a series of quotidian testimonies seemed to undermine the pomp and circumstance of the library's facade: Mrs Paul of Sommerstown who recorded details of the area of King's Cross when it was small-pox infested slum; Germaine Greer on the practice of stealing plates from library books; the sound of a person in a wheelchair using the access facilites of the library. By making her audience aware of this surreality from the beginning of their tour, Meynell marked the gap between historical truth and experience. Her tour reconsiderd the user, implicating him or her in this space between such different narratives.' - Andrea Phillips, 2000 on Spin

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