Art & Events Interview Caro Meets

David Shearing: The Rising Sun

By | Published on Friday 8 July 2022

Quite often when selecting subjects for these Q&As I’m drawn to those involved in performance, so it’s mostly actors, comedians, choreographers and the like. But here at ThisWeek Culture, we also love to hear about exciting art projects, like this one that caught my attention in the last couple of weeks. 

‘The Rising Sun’ is a new installation that will be at Romford Market shortly and it’s the work of David Shearing and his creative collective Variable Matter. I think it sounds amazing, so I arranged a chat with David, to discover how it was conceived and what to expect.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about your installation ‘The Rising Sun’? What can people expect from it?
DS: ‘The Rising Sun’ is an immersive sound and light installation charting the stories of over 100 people in Havering. It resembles a pub on the outside, but inside offers a more reflective space. It will sit proudly in Romford Market for two weeks, and will provide a space of contemplation, conversation and connection.

I think people will find it quite moving, it is rare we have the chance to really encounter other people in this way. I hope people will find the moment out of their busy lives a real chance to reorientate themselves with the world.

CM: Can you tell us about the soundscape element – what sort of thing will we be hearing?
DS: The sound world of ‘The Rising Sun’ is a mixture of stories, music and 3D ambient sound recorded around Romford. The sound has been designed by composer and artist James Bulley who has created a custom built 48-speaker system to immerse audiences inside the soundscape – it is a unique spatial composition that really must be experienced.

The stories map the histories and identities of those who I’ve encountered in Romford over the past six months. They range quite significantly in terms of emotion, from people struggling to manage spending, buying their first dog from Romford Market in the 1950s, to those dealing and living with complex impairments and health conditions. The aim is to bring these voices into dialogue with each other – a prism of who Romford is right now.

CM: What inspired this installation? What gave you this idea?
DS: I wanted to provide a familiar and inviting space for passers-by to go into, and the concept of a pub emerged naturally as a starting point. A space to slow down, connect with others, tell stories, rant and dream. The weather has always been central to my work, and this time we decided light would be the driver for the installation. The project has been mapped to the movement of the sun as it passes around the space. The sound and voices act like a cloud immersing the audience in a sonic as well as visual environment.

CM: What are the aims of the project? Who do you want to reach with it?
DS: People are at the heart of everything I do. I am fascinated by the stories of everyday people; I think the more we understand others, the more compassionate we might become. I also don’t think many of us have space to reflect in our day-to-day lives and I want to offer a moment out for people.

I make work that has an artistic sense of enquiry, to explore the frictions and differences between people, and to celebrate them. I want it to be a rigorous examination of place and people, but also magical and inviting – I want people to feel like they get it, that it’s for and made with them. This is Romford telling its own story.

CM: Can you tell us about Variable Matter?  
DS: I have been making performance, art and installations for eighteen years mainly under my name. Variable Matter is a new concept for me, a way to bring together all the people, creatives, engineers, producers and community groups I work with. We are interested in how we might transform places by working with people and audiences as part of our creative process.

CM: I think people tend to think of artists as people who work alone, but this is clearly a collaborative effort – do you prefer it that way?
DS: I think collaboration is essential to innovation. I often make sure there are new challenges to every project. For example, working with digital engineers, web programmes can throw up new possibilities. For ‘The Rising Sun’ we have worked with long term collaborators and design agency Rabbit Hole who have explored how we can take our physical installation and turn it into a digital online space. You’ll be able to hear a version of the installation anywhere in the world, a long-term legacy of the project.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you come to be working in this field, on this sort of project? How does one start a career doing this kind of work?
DS: I have always been interested in how art can make a difference to our everyday lives – as creators and audience members. I think to have a career in art means to follow a line of enquiry: what do you want to know more about? How can art make a difference? I always come back to that.

I went to the University Of Winchester to study performance making, followed by a master’s in Performance Design And Practice at Central Saint Martins. In 2015 I completed a PhD in audience experience at the University Of Leeds as I slowly became more fascinated with the way people engage with design and art, how they connect with it.

I want to question how materials invite us to engage, and how design and art can be part of tools for placemaking in our everyday lives.

CM: What have been the highlights of your career thus far?
DS: In 2016 I made a piece called ‘The Weather Café’ and for me this was a turning point. Getting to see audiences proud to have a project like this in Leeds and witnessing how it could engage so many thousands of people was inspiring.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
DS: I want to explore further audience engagement in our work, it takes time to build these connections, but it can offer real moments of insight and transformation. My ambition here is to find a model where people are part of the conception of a project, where communities drive the commission.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
DS: I am going to continue to explore how we can disrupt established ways of engaging in our cities and everyday life, from the billboards we see to the places we sleep and how we party.

David Shearing’s ‘The Rising Sun’ will be at Romford Market from 15 – 30 Jul. See this page here for more information.

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Photo: Tom Joy