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New artwork arrives at Wellcome Collection

22 September 2011

From today, noise from the gridlocked traffic on the Euston Road in central London will be replaced by the sound of waves breaking onto pebbles with ‘White Sound: An urban seascape’, a newly commissioned work by Bill Fontana at Wellcome Collection, supported by Camden Council, Haunch of Venison and the Socially Responsive Art and Design Hub.

For three weeks, the installation will transform the urban environment of one of London's most polluted thoroughfares with a live sound feed from Chesil Beach in Dorset. White Sound creates an entirely new acoustic architecture that challenges our sense of place and dissolves the physical sensation of being in the city within an experience of the tidal rhythms of the sea.

Pedestrians approaching Wellcome Collection along Euston Road will find themselves enveloped by the sounds of waves, projected onto the street. The river of cars, buses and lorries will continue its slow progress, but the noise of engines and horns is muted by the imported seascape. Fontana's work contests the visual identity of the built environment and White Sound's transparent intervention will force a new apprehension of the space we move through.

Sitting in traffic queues, time can appear to slow painfully, but the seascape evokes a natural activity that moves towards a deeper time: a continuous cycle carried over thousands of years. Placing the hypnotic sound of Chesil Beach on the congested Euston Road, White Sound raises questions about our understanding of stillness and movement in both urban and natural environments.

Chesil Beach is formed of a unique 18-mile pebble bank, with the Fleet Lagoon on one side and the sea on the other. Its stones, largely chert and flint, are graded neatly along its length, and fisherman arriving by night are said to be able to locate themselves by the size of the pebbles beneath their feet.

The beach is part of the Jurassic Coast and a UNESCO designated World Heritage site. Film footage from the beach will play in Wellcome Collection throughout the installation's run.

Ken Arnold, Head of Public Programmes at Wellcome Collection, says: "Bill Fontana brilliantly confuses our sense of where we are and what we are experiencing. Just by closing our eyes he manages to turn one of Europe's nosiest and most polluted roads into a live seascape. It will be fascinating to see how the public responds to the English Channel crashing onto the Euston Road outside Wellcome Collection."

White Sound: An urban seascape by Bill Fontana runs at Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, NW1 2BE from 22 September to 16 October 2011.

Image: Chesil Beach, Dorset. Credit: Bill Fontana.


Bill Fontana
Bill Fontana (born 1947, USA) trained as a composer and is celebrated for his pioneering work in sound, which explores the nature of our acoustic environment. He has exhibited his sound sculptures at leading museums around the world, as well as at iconic locations from the Golden Gate bridge to the Arc de Triomphe.

London has a particular call on Fontana, and his works here have included installations carrying the hidden sounds of the Millennium Bridge within Tate Modern and a live sound map of Big Ben at Tate Britain. His first explorations of the coastline and the unique acoustics of Chesil Beach were linked to an installation at the National Maritime Museum and, most recently, the sounds of the Thames were brought within the subterranean spaces of Somerset House.

Fontana has received numerous fellowships for his work, including the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship in 1986. He lives and works in San Francisco and is represented in the UK by Haunch of Venison.

White Sound
White Sound has been created in partnership with Camden Council, Haunch of Venison, and Socially Responsive Art and Design Hub at University of the Arts, London. As part of Camden Council's Green Camden campaign, the Green Transport Festival takes place on 24 September, helping people make greener choices about how they travel. Find out more at Green Camden.

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