When you walk in to #UNRAVEL for the first time it’s probably the musical instruments that initially catch your eye – a set-up of drums, a keyboard and other more arcane and unrecognisable contraptions. At its heart though is a turntable with a box of seven inch singles beside it.
Out of curiosity you’ll idly flip through them – you’ll find the likes of the Wedding Present, Dinosaur Jr, Julee Cruise and even Chris de Burgh.
Welcome to #UNRAVEL – an art installation put together through a collaboration between the FOUND Art Collective and Aidan Moffat.
Simon Kirby from the FOUND Collective explains the idea behind #UNRAVEL which goes on display to the public for the first time at the upcoming Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art:
“#UNRAVEL’s about the unreliable nature of memory. Visitors to the gallery will walk up to a record player and look through a collection of 7” records, mostly from the 80s. Each of those records has a memory associated with it. So our narrator will relate stories from his life, each associated with these records.
“So if you’re in the gallery you’ll pick out one of these records and put it on the record player but instead of hearing the song that’s on the record that you’d expect you’ll hear a story of this memory soundtracked by a collection of robotic instruments that will play along with the story.”
Tommy Perman expands on that idea:
“The crucial element to this project is that memories aren’t fixed. Nobody’s memory is entirely reliable and you can’t trust your memory to a certain extent.
“You will change the way you tell a story depending on who’s listening to you and what mood you’re in. And maybe what you want them to have been.”
Simon reckons that delivering the audio components of #UNRAVEL through vinyl highlights this.
” Unlike a conventional vinyl record which always plays the same thing every time and is apparently a completely reliable source of information, these records won’t behave the same each time.
“Instead they’ll act as a real narrator does and tell the story slightly differently depending on for example how many people are in the room, what people are saying about the installation on Twitter, what the weather is outside and whether it’s early or late.
“So you’ll have to come back many times if you want to work out the truth behind the stories being told.”
Tommy explains that #UNRAVEL was initially shaped by some very practical considerations.
“Like a lot of our projects we respond to briefs. So we wrote the proposal and honed the idea because there was funding available. You have to work that way as an artist these days.
“We were invited to apply for the Creative Scotland Vital Spark award and part of that was that you had to collaborate with someone you’ve never worked with before and introduce a new element to your work.”
Ziggy Campbell recalls that FOUND ultimately arrived at their dream collaborator through a process that involved a hostelry – and some panic!
“Me and Tommy went to the pub and I was like ‘Fuck! How do you come up with something?’ Eventually we came up with a rough idea, nothing like what it is,
“We spent a week with Simon just bashing out the idea and trying to get it really refined but we needed someone to do the writing job essentially, to provide the narrative. I kind of knew straight away that I wanted to work with Aidan.”
Aidan is quick to credit his collaborators for their work before he became involved.
“It was all FOUND’s idea. Ziggy got in touch with me, a very long time ago now it seems like, just to see if I’d be interested in doing the stories and writing the words for it.
“The concept of the narrator changing his mind was all their’s.”
#UNRAVEL marks another chapter in the ever evolving body of work that Aidan has created since Arab Strap split up and he admits that the timing was perfect.
“I’ve been wanting to do something with stories and the way they’d be presented for a while so it came at exactly the right point. It was fate, destiny, luck, kharma! (Laughs) Something like that.”
If FOUND were responsible for the framework for #UNRAVEL, Tommy explains that Aidan’s contribution lies at the heart of #UNRAVEL.
“We really think about this project as being about the stories and the memories. We’d never had that kind of narrative element to our work before. We’ve done lots of sound based work but we wanted to have an extra layer to it, more depth and more hooks to bring people in.
“Aidan went away and started to write these stories and all of a sudden sent over 10 stories with 4 versions of each. We were all blown away with the quality and ingenuity of them. There were some very fun, playful elements. He’d really got the idea and the way he might be able to warp a memory depending on the weather or depending if it was an early telling of the story or a late night telling of the story.
“So the content changes sometimes quite dramatically but sometimes very subtly, just a few words. And that really inspired us to carry on with the rest of the project.”
With the basic framework in place, Aidan then had to make the crucial link between the stories and the records.
“It was my job to come up with the records and how they’d connect with the memories I have of them.
“It was quite difficult because there were a few songs that I wanted to choose that were never released on 7″. So I had to be quite hardcore and if it wasn’t a 7″ then I didn’t want to use it.”
Since the whole concept is based around the idea of the unreliable narrator, one of the questions that #UNRAVEL poses about the stories is – which version is true? Only Aidan knows for sure.
“Everything I do is autobiographical so some versions of the stories are true, but not all of them. There’s numerous variations of each story but I know what the truth is!
“We were just joking, in general, if it has a happy ending and I’m successful then it’s probably fictional (laughs).”
If Aidan was working on familiar ground in terms of his contribution, then #UNRAVEL forced FOUND into challenging new directions musically.
Ziggy tells how the writing was divided.
“There’s 10 memories and then 16 versions of each memory, so the first thing to do was split it up. So we’ve got stormy and fair so it was ‘do you want to do the stormy one for this? Ok, you’ll do that and I’ll do the fair one.’ So we worked through it kind of like that.”
Tommy describes the slightly unusual constraints that the installation itself placed on the soundtracking process.
“The other aspect of it was the musical instruments that we’ve got to work with. It’s an unusual sound palate and that was an extra dimension to the task of sitting down and writing for this.”
When #UNRAVEL finishes its initial run, there are plenty of ideas as to how it will continue as Tommy explains.
” We’ve talked about touring it around the UK. The nice thing about it is that it sits between a lot of different things, it’s a gallery installation but it doesn’t have to be in a gallery. It’s also like a musical piece that you could sit down and listen to almost like a concert and it’s got that kind of literary element to it.”
“We’re hoping to generate a nice buzz about it and then we’ll seek to get it shown elsewhere.”
The future of #UNRAVEL though could expand past its imminent incarnation as an exhibition and there have also been discussions about some form of physical release as Aidan explains.
“We’re going to do some form of music format, we might do an LP, we might do various things, we haven’t quite decided yet.
” We’re also talking about a card game with the stories where you have to shuffle it yourself and pick random versions. We haven’t quite worked that out yet.”
#UNRAVEL can be seen at the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art between 20th April and 7th May at SWG3, 100 Eastvale Place, Finnieston, Glasgow, G3 8QG.
Opening hours are MON – FRI 10am-6pm and SAT – SUN 12 noon-5pm.