Air is Not a Void
or how this commission began
It was on board of a propeller plane, just above the line of thick autumn clouds, when we first talked about Topologies of Air. The artist Shona Illingworth and I were flying back from Belfast City Airport to London City Airport after a talk at the MAC, Belfast, the previous evening. That short and noisy flight felt like an appropriate setting to talk about air. We were hanging in its midst thanks to the technology that fulfilled the ancient human dream of flying, technology propelled by oil. But this was long before flight shaming. Only in 2017, but a whole generation of consciousness earlier. Before Veganuary, Extinction Rebellion, Greta Thunberg. Even before Blue Planet 2, paper straws and bamboo toothbrushes.
Perhaps the view on the setting sun in the deep blue sky from the Flybe plane window that provided the backdrop to Shona’s words that evening influenced my thinking. By the time we cut through the grey layer of clouds and hit the tarmac at London City, I was buzzing with excitement. I couldn’t wait to call my co-director Thomas and tell him about this project.
This was the point when The Wapping Project joined the journey of Topologies of Air, a project that Shona had been thinking of for a while, a project taking further her exploration of the complexity of the space above our heads.
Read more in the publication Topologies of Air, 2020, published by The Wapping Project.
Topologies of Air by Shona Illingworth is a three-screen sound and video installation examining the impact of accelerating geopolitical, technological and environmental change on the composition, nature and use of airspace. The piece questions the narrow terms by which it is currently represented and defined. The work aims to invite the audience look up and consider the air above their heads not as a void, free space, but a multi-layered, complex cultural and legal space, that is shared and personal, with a long history and rapidly changing future. This sensory and captivating piece weaves together extensive conversations with scientists, researchers, lawyers, philosophers, economists, astronomers, archaeologists and many others with evocative imagery shot in Bahrain, UAE, Australia, Japan, Spain, Scotland and China, and archival footage looking at the airspace from a multitude of perspectives.
Shona Illingworth has been collaborating on the project with Professor Nick Grief, barrister at Doughty Street Chambers and a law professor specialising in airspace and human rights law and member of the legal team that represented the Marshall Islands before the International Court of Justice in nuclear disarmament cases against India, Pakistan and the UK.
On 21 September 2018, the inaugural hearings of the Airspace Tribunal contributing key research and discussion towards Topologies Of Air took place at Doughty Street Chambers. More about the Airspace Tribunal
Shona Illingworth is a Scottish-Danish artist who works across a range of media including video, sound, photography and drawing. She is known for her immersive video and multi-channel sound installations, and evocative, research-led practice in which she explores the dynamic processes of memory. Her work has been exhibited internationally, with shows at the Museum of Modern Art, Bologna, FACT, Liverpool, UNSW Galleries, Sydney and the Wellcome Collection, London. She has received high profile commissions from Film and Video Umbrella, the Hayward Gallery, London and Channel 4 Television. Her piece 216 Westbound was recently exhibited at the Imperial War Museum, London, and was recently purchased by the Contemporary Art Society for the Imperial War Museum’s permanent collection. Illingworth was shortlisted for the prestigious Jarman Award in 2016.
Topologies of Air was commissioned and produced by The Wapping Project, with support from the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities , Bahrain National Museum, Sharjah Art Foundation and the British Council, DCMS and GREAT the UK-Gulf Exhibition Programme, as well as a travel grant from Arts Council England. Shona Illingworth is Reader in Fine Art at University of Kent and Topologies of Air forms part of her research practice.