By Anabelle Lacroix
Cara-Ann Simpson’s Geo Sound Helmets are a bit like sea snails, their shell is a camouflage strategy for survival. Simpson’s helmets can be useful to protect our heads, but they also adapt to our emotional response. Both are much more than what they look like.
Simpson’s Geo Sound Helmets are rock looking, interactive, immersive sound environments. Each hang from the gallery walls, ceiling or set on the floor. By inserting your head in the dark void of the helmet you would hear pre-recorded soundscapes from outdoor environments in Canada, Australia, Honk-Kong and Singapore. Soon you become aware that each slight head movement and/ humidity created by breath are activating sensors which alter the Geo-soundscapes. ‘Geo’ refers to the geographical aspect of sound that is specific of a place. I found the sound calming, the immersive darkness forces you to switch off and soon to be transported to other places.
Functioning on basic biological parameters Simpson’s Geo Sound Helmets enable everyone to share the experience – to be both a listener and a creator – of the sound piece. Deprived of sight inside the helmet, the listener is acutely aware of the sounds and of their own body. The position of the helmets at different heights created unusual positions for the visitor who became the one to be looked at. In that way, the conventions of the gallery is tested by modifying the visitor’s posture and interaction with space. Simpson noted that the audience in Melbourne was less adventurous about having their heads in the helmets, perhaps more self conscious; whereas in New Zealand, visitors would spend longer periods of time playing with different helmets.
For Simpson the Geo-Helmets demonstrate her role as artist to be the catalyst for social change. Indeed, the Geo Sound Helmets are one step in the artist’s innovative practice – where each work she creates is a new machine- driven by the belief that limits can always be pushed. The artist is inspired by cultural theory and aspects of contemporary life; currently working on the issue of sound pollution.
I found Simpson’s practice very relevant, the use technology in new and interesting ways shows that the artist has something to say in our society. By bringing several disciplines together Simpson creates a work that is critical on the fields of acoustic ecology, interactive art, design and engineering. Quite opposed to the amateur looking robot sitting in a garage, this work functions particularly well in the art world. It’s an object-based creation that visually addresses the issue of gallery behavior in a humorous way.
It is pleasing to see that an experimental project like this one is financially sustainable. Geo Sound Helmets are the result of 3 years research in collaboration with two engineers and an Industrial Designer. Support from local and national councils allowed the artist to present her work at two international conferences and to exhibit several galleries abroad.
Geodesic – Sound Helmets was exhibited at Kings in Melbourne from November 25th to December 17th 2011. Cara-Ann is a Melbourne-based artist, [previously] curator and co-director of Electrofringe, an annual festival and year-round program of experimental electronic arts and culture in Newcastle, Australia.