The human hearing range peters out at around 20 Hz; that’s 20 vibrations a second. Below this, frequencies only register in the rattling of your body, like tremors.
It’s into this uneasy sonic territory that Perry’s sound sculpture Rage Fluids (all works 2018) takes you. The air in Somerset House’s bare River Rooms is punctuated by thick bursts of low-frequency sound belting out of naked subwoofer speakers – the type with which boy-racers pack their boots. The subwoofers are strung along curving steel racks that form walls around the edges of the space. Stretched taut over the other side of the racks are tall sheets of reflective, bronze-coloured car body wrap, the two almost touching. When the speakers lurch into gear the car wrap trembles and in it you see the outlines of your faint, smoky reflection ripple and warp.
In the next room GUSH, a film projected onto a 360-degree screen, searches restlessly through fragments of a life catalogued online. Snapshots and webcam videos parade across the screen, dredged up like old bottles from a canal. A male voice wanders through snippets of poetry, Facebook statuses and journal entries, returning to Facebook’s corporate refrain of “Hannah, we care about you and the memories that you share here. We thought that you’d like to look back on this post from 8 years ago”. Many of these posts relate to Pete Morrow, a close friend of Perry’s, who, as we learn from the introductory text, took his own life. It’s this unseen figure that GUSH encircles but never fully locates, whose outlines remain unclear, whose voice, like the submarine scream of Rage Fluids, lurks just out of hearing range.
At times the film runs close to the social-media self-indulgence found in many contemporary artworks reflecting on loneliness and identity in a networked and over-archived world. But GUSH manages to avoid feeling like a byproduct of self-therapy; it does this by letting others in, offering up loss as a site on which to foster collaborations. Some of the lines of poetry, co-authored through workshops with young people and delivered by a calm, collected voice, puncture the sterile backdrop of the Facebook chant: “the view of the moon through a roadkill hedge is a glimpse of the grey-eyed madness of you”. In one scene of the video, two dancers’ bodies snake around each other, never touching, but enveloping us. The soundtrack, a collaboration between London Contemporary Orchestra and Coby Sey and Mica Levi of the Curl collective infuses it all with an atmosphere that’s cold but reassuringly familiar, like the calm, blue glow of a laptop screen.
GUSH acknowledges the distances embedded into contemporary social architectures on- and offline, their tendency to estrange and isolate us. But working with the technologies accused of driving us apart, Perry strives instead to move us closer. It’s deeply personal but not protectively so: out for solidarity over solipsism.
Hannah Perry: GUSH at River Rooms, Somerset House, London, 3 October – 4 November
From the March 2019 issue of ArtReview