A weighty stone plinth sits on Joss Bilton’s shoulders. Bilton at once becomes an inanimate object but one that denotes power and status, a human monument. Without a face, his personality is eradicated and his body yields to the stone edifice behind him. It is a peculiar sight but one that immediately connects us to the theme of Undersong. This new show, part of Bilton’s ongoing work concerns self, body and land causes us to reflect on the significance of Portland Stone, a limestone quarried on the Portland peninsula in Dorset. Conveying a sense of power and authority, the stone was used extensively as a building material to construct many of London’s landmarks including the Bank of England and St Paul’s Cathedral. The artist considers whether it is possible to find other meanings in Portland Stone besides its usual connotations?
Undersong is a lyrical work incorporating sound, video and a guided walk through Hackney. It takes the viewer on an exploration of the stone through sound, sight and touch, both in the gallery and out into the cityscape. In Bilton’s video, an intense crackling sound begins as chalky hands strive to release themselves from the strictures of partially dried clay. Eventually, the crackling ceases and gives way to an eerie undercurrent of intoned voices. A clay mask is formed from the contours of the artist’s face and becomes a monument, balanced precariously on a plinth.
The scene changes to the site of the Albion Stone workshop where water cascades over the vast blocks of stone. A large cutting wheel saws its way through an enormous block of stone. It takes a long time to cut but implores you to see it through. Smaller stones, now audible above the din of the water clink melodically. The dedication of the work coupled with the clinking of the stones creates an almost monastic ambience. It is a very beautiful sound.
When the video closes, it is time to take a piece of Portland Stone from the gallery and follow the route to the bell tower. An audio of sounds and poetry accompanies you on your way through the crumbling grave stones where
can try and read the inscriptions
by your hand, find the lip of tar
or thin edge of white paint
covering the south sur-
face or between the
two where a wild
patch of grass,
the fuck you so delicate
Extract from Cairn poem by Holly Corfield Carr
24 June – 17 September 2016 | 129 – 131 Mare Street, London E8 3RH | www.spacestudios.org.uk