The Veins of a Slack Rope Dancer

Very thoughtful and recuperative work – making beautiful and strange these (now) muted objects.

This sound work was commissioned by the Thackray Medical Museum, Leeds for the group exhibition Thackeray Uncovered (March-June 2017). The curatorial premise was to allow artists to explore some of the Museum’s many medical artefacts not on public display, and to ‘reimagine’ these in an exhibition context.

The scarificator bloodletting device was my main source of inspiration – a small brass box with lancets operated by a spring-released trigger.  This box has a sense of sinister allure, gothic beauty and craftsmanship.  

It could easily be mistaken for an antique music box, such as the enchanting Slack Rope Dancer.  

From my first contact with this bloodletting device, references developed to further back in the timeline of medical thought to the ancient Greek belief in the body’s four ‘humors’ and the need for these to be kept in balance in order for health to be maintained.

Working with technologist Kris Gjerstad, I made audio recordings of the scarificator (and other medical devices) and combined these with music box tunes.   These elements were remixed and layered in a deceptive collage: some elements were familiar (Over the Rainbow), others less so. A breathy female voice provided bodily presence; there are metallic, rhythmic elements, others suggestive of a liquid nature. Subtle reverb and temporal manipulations were added: recordings were stretched and the melody wound up and down.

A wonderful nightmarish ambience, a haunting ‘sounding out’ of this material device, an imaginative address to conceive the device as paradoxically both menacing and affirmative. Louise K Wilson