A Horse in a Tree is an ongoing collaboration with Shakeeb Abu Hamdan.
Making use of our respective specialisms — working with sound and performance — and a long history as friends, the project looks at the unreliable, evolving nature of memory, the limitations of images and their roles in the construction of history.
The first part of this project and its overarching title come from shared recollection of a slide of the body of a dead horse, blown into a tree by a shell during World War I. The image was seen at a provincial museum during a school trip to the battlefields of the Western Front in the mid 1990s.
In the work we attempt a sonic re-staging of the incident as a means to unpick the resonance of the image. Working with the techniques of foley — the process of producing sound effects for film — a variety of layered and processed sound recordings (including the slamming of doors, lighting of matches, thrashing of foliage and dropping carpets from stepladders) simulate the impact, explosion and aftermath of this historical footnote in an attempt to slow it down and make sense of its implausibility and horror.
The work takes the form of a 15 minute countdown, silent until the final 20 seconds when the fall of the shell, explosion, scream of the horse and its impact in the tree are played back at high volume. The countdown itself is interspersed with glimpses of the recording process and subtitles that follow a discussion of the artists’ memories of the image and the museum. The absurdity of the undertaking and the stumbling half-recollections jarringly collide with the bodily impact of the sound and pulls the extremity of the image into momentary focus.
At a moment when the profusion of images threatens to debase their power as historical documents and when ideas of authenticity and truth seem to acquire a new, elastic character this work prompts questions about how we process and make meaning from moments of cataclysm.