A brand-new Future Yard exclusive collaboration between Forest Swords and The Kazimier, PYLON provides a space to observe the exchange of energy under the watch of the oldest building on Merseyside.
On the right day, with the right pair eyes, the views of Merseyside found at the tip of Birkenhead Priory are unmatched. Climb up through the tunnelling staircase at the foot of St Mary’s tower, moving around each angle towards the top – where the leg muscles will begin to grow just as tight – and you reach your viewing point. The eventual arrival is bracing.
Each direction you face presents its own exhibition of Merseyside. Some curated by industry; the others, deeper into Wirral, quietly pulled together by nature. It’s a pensive space, but far from lonely. Facing towards Liverpool, your nose is pressed up to the shop window glass; its prized stock neatly stacked on the front row. Reflecting back in the glass is an abundance of energy. Cranes, shipbuilders, ferries, ventilation towers. Even the departed boats, long freed into new waters, have left a palpable mark on the kinetic timeline of this landscape – something which you can read in the aching yellow cranes stooping into view along the walls of the priory (though now, as of May, torn from the dockside). The water between the two faces of Merseyside even appears to be wading through the slack breaks in the tide. Things are in transit. The entire panorama is a picture of movement, where weight is pulled, held and accordingly released.
To the base of the tower everything slows down. Yet, remarkably, it’s the static remains of the priory that appear to harbour the most compelling energy. You can sense a persistence through time in the resolute brickwork that still stands. The abundance of hours, days, centuries that have coursed through the priory’s walls since its founding by Benedictine monks in 1150, home to the oldest building on Merseyside. Its history is hardwired into movement, energy and its exchange; the priory served as a ferry stop from 1318, the oldest regular ferry service in all of Europe.
Elsewhere on site is the refectory, an addition to the priory that bridges historic brickwork with contemporary window fixtures. The inside is gushing with a natural brightness. Intricate wooden beams hang above, with all below held as though in a respiratory chest cavity. This is to be the setting for PYLON, a brand-new sound and light installation by FOREST SWORDS and The Kazimier’s lighting whiz VENYA KRUTIKOV.
Beyond providing lighting design for previous tours, PYLON will be the first time Forest Swords, real name Matthew Barnes, and Krutikov have worked together on a full-scale project. Drawing in participation from artists on the bill and audience, PYLON is to be an installation aware of its surroundings, its history, and those who engage with its presence over the course of the festival. “I was really into this idea of creating a space where there was this transference of energy between objects and things,” Barnes begins. “A transference of energy between the performer and the installation, the installation and the audience, the audience and the space. All of these aspects will be interconnected, able to talk to one another and to respond to one another.”
For Barnes, who is devising the sonic element of the installation, it’s the first time he’s produced a body of work that will be housed on Wirral, his place of birth and residence. “It feels like you just naturally have a little bit more room over here,” he says, referring to the peninsula that has quietly informed his geographically rich sound design over the course of three albums. “It’s as though you have more breathing room; almost a little like an exhale, rather than the sharp intake of breath on the other side of the water.”
It’s a beautifully clear day as we visit the refectory space with Krutikov and the additional Kazimier team working on the project. You can easily find this sense of abundant room Barnes refers to, not just from atop the tower, but within the oxygen rich aura that circulates around the room’s dominant upper rib cage. It’s clearly an inspiring setting to be working in for the two artists, who’re taking their time to study the finest details of the refectory and the historic grounds that surround it. One that promises challenge, but offers so many established avenues to work into their vision comprising of reactive lighting and sprawling soundscapes. “Lots of projects are set up in kind of derelict, abandoned spaces and follow the narrative of how the work brings them back to life, or restores them,” Krutikov notes. “Turning an old nightclub or cinema into a lifeful entity is very different. Here we have an 11th-century priory – it’s a completely different landscape which you are being asked to respond to.” His observations reflect a respect for the enduring permanence for the space. “You also have to be more respectful in a sense, because of the abundant history,” Barnes replies. “It can feel quite solemn. It’s a very quiet space across the whole site.”
Illustrating the transfer of energy between object and subject, PYLON will be a space for “improvisation, exploration and contemplation”, generated by contorting, artist-led soundscapes and adjoining light show. The installation’s name is a “happy accident”, remarks Barnes, acknowledging how the priory’s St Mary’s tower stands over the grounds like the harbourer of the local landscape’s energy, overseeing its arrival and departure akin to the real pylons noticeable deeper into the Wirral landscape. Perhaps by coincidence or subconscious design, the installation seems to tap into its localised narrative of arrival and departure and the energies displaced between. PYLON looks set to be more of an encompassing experience than a neat sensory array. However, both Krutikov and Barnes aren’t ruddered by a particular narrative for their work. “A lot of what we do is quite exploratory, and it becomes a little bit like sedimentary rock that allows you to build up layers,” Krutikov informs. There’s an evident will to try to make PYLON as democratised as possible, as unique as possible for each individual audience. “The installation will reveal itself, not only to us, but to everyone else, the further into the weekend it gets, the more people that use it, that experience the room. That’s what excites me most,” Barnes affirms. “It will kind of become an independent entity after a while, whereby what is being created no longer bears our signature.”
In terms of the collaboration, both agree how they will “allow the space to do a lot of the work” on the installation. “There are so many logistical aspects to consider,” Barnes begins, “power, weight, sound – with an installation like this, you have to let the building inform your vision.” In approaching PYLON in such a respectful manner, a third collaborator is added to the project: the priory itself. “You realise your ideas will be informed by the sensitivity of the space. Something brash would instantly feel wrong in here, you just can ignore that there is certain energy coursing through the grounds, and you have to follow your instincts on that,” Krutikov explains.
The installation will be designed to have a range of states that can be interpreted by each user. And, while PYLON has been devised by Barnes and Krutikov, it will be artists on the Future Yard line-up that will determine its mood. “The idea is to invite some of the artists to come in and improvise music within the installation,” Barnes outlines. “Improvising and just figuring stuff out on the fly is seen as either a bit of a dirty word or just totally terrifying. There’s something quite vulnerable and interesting about pulling that curtain back and having a sort of honesty with the audience.” The lights and sound in the room will be reactive to each individual artist, a process that will establish “a conversation” with the space and the people in the refectory.
Through the pairing’s design, the installation will bear an element of sentience, one that will allow it to transform, refresh and learn over the course of the festival – where it will be exclusively presented. It offers a contemplative room of sorts, away from the binary relationship between stage and audience dispersed across the Town Hall and Bloom Building; a place to locate the scores of energies that harbour in every aspect of the landscape surrounding Birkenhead.
Forest Swords and The Kazimier present PYLON takes places at Birkenhead Priory across both days of Future Yard festival, Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th August.