Today we have a chat with ever cheerful Aussie bridge symphony director Jodi Rose on her upcoming project at ISEA2008 in the backdrop of the newly opened Keppel Bay bridge.

Jodi Rose’s work in Singapore has taken her to the major pedestrian bridges throughout the island including those at Boat Quay and Robertson Walk, Keppel Bay, the SAFTI link bridge, and even the newly opened bridges at Hort Park.

Q: So whats the deal about bridges anyway? What sparked off an interest (artistically and aesthetically) in focusing on bridges?

A: The idea originally came while studying sculpture at art school in Sydney in the mid-1990s. One of the lecturers for a course in public art had given us the exercise to come up with an idea for an artwork in public space which had absolutely no constraints, wasn’t limited by feasibility, practicality or any other real-world concern.

Looking up at the new Glebe Island (Anzac) Bridge as it was being built over Blackwattle Bay on my way to art school everyday, the particular mix of public sculpture, sound art, and deconstructive theory swirling in my sleepy brain led me to wonder, in an idle moment of curiosity; how would that big harp-like structure of cables and concrete sound? Could I link together bridge cables around the world as instruments in a global symphony?

The first recording I made while the Anzac Bridge was still under construction, taking a team of radio producers and sound engineers from the ABC National Radio with me to best capture the industrial yet ethereal voice of the cables.

Bridges continue to fascinate me on both an aesthetic and artistic level, as they are everywhere, and make a perfect instrument to stage a Global Symphony work. Everyone responds differently to the project, depending on their own focus and interest, and most people have a favourite bridge, or bridge story to share, and the continuing interest and creative engagement from many people, both collaborating and appreciating, keeps giving me new energy and perspectives to explore. Bridges are loaded with symbolic meaning, they speak of connection, crossing borders and cultures; they are a threshold between worlds, states of mind and consciousness, and a liminal space ‘in-between’ places.

According to Heidegger, the bridge ‘creates a location, it brings together many places, both near and far, and is a meeting point for the earth and heaven, divinities and mortals’.

Bridges are familiar, yet unknown, they are the pinnacle of engineering at their time of construction, and become monuments to the past, they are deeply local and iconic to a place, and yet also universal. They carry poetic metaphors and romantic conceptual philosophical meanings.

Q: A global bridge symphony implies a collaboration and alliance in sonic properties across geographical boundaries. How political would you consider your work to be? Any plans to record sounds of causeways?

A: In general, I don’t consider my work to be overtly political. It has a strong conceptual-aesthetic and philosophical axis, which does have an inherent political aspect in that bridges are built for a certain purpose, to be functional, and their aesthetic qualities are usually visual. They are certainly not built to be listened to, or played as ‘instruments’, and by intervening in this system of use and functionality, with a whimisical, poetic and sonic aesthetic use, I think that creates a gap in the political-economic power system that is built into bridges. Re-framing the urban environment, and a very utilitarian object in a completely different direction that it’s orginal purpose is also a kind of culture-jamming.

Bridges are not built to be listened to – but I hope in the future that they may be!

I would love to see bridge design start to incorporate the sonic qualities of the structure.

No plans for causeways at the moment, or buildings, or tunnels – I have enough bridges to stay occupied for life, and people keep building more, which is fabulous.

The economics and politics of building bridges is often controversial, but once that dies down they tend to become emblematic of their location. Power and wealth come together with poverty and homelessness, on and under the bridge, and I find that inherent politics is also played out in my life as a precarious worker and cultural nomad. The choice to live as a freelance artist is one that brings certain privileges, access to places, experiences and creative possibilities in a very fulfilling enagagement with the world, but it also carries certain stresses – economic, geographic, and ecological; where the issues of living in a sustainable manner with a distributed community are highlighted.

I believe that it is one of the functions of art, besides expression and communication, to take you to places outside the mainstream expectations of being a productive, functioning member of capitalist society, that you are not driven by the desire for wealth, status or power, and have the freedom to explore other aspects of the world, ephemeral, abstract, esoteric – although in the process of course you may produce cultural capital and cultural objects, and hopefully generate some income along the way, although there are myriad different approaches to being able to sustain life as an artist, working in different areas.
Freedom of imagination is a gift not to be taken lightly. It’s open to everyone equally, although of course it is influenced by access to knowledge, education and economic factors, but in the end, your life is expanded or limited in accord with your capacity for imagination and corresponding courage. I hope that my ongoing committment to this project single-mindedly and wholeheartedly, is inspiring, and creates a small gap in the fabric of social expectation – no dream is too crazy, if I can do this, you can do anything!!

Q: Have you encountered a silent bridge?

A: Yes, quite a few bridges have not been in the mood for singing at the time of my visit.

Some of them along the Singapore River, as we discovered, and also the My Thuan Bridge in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam; and others that I forget right now.

Part of the process is finding the resonant parts of the structure, and when there is no vibration audible through the steel or cables, I am disappointed, but it is also a very Zen reminder to accept what is there. If there is a song inside the bridge, I will listen, but if it prefers to stay quiet, then I respect that! I know I speak about bridges in a slightly anthropomorphic fashion, which comes from my belief that the sound of the cables really is the voice of the bridge. In the sense that voice = breath and vibration, this makes perfect sense, and as John Cage says, ‘There is a spirit in everything, that is released by it’s being set into vibration’. Hence the vibration of the bridge is it’s voice, and spirit.

Q: A bridge brings together two places, possibly quite different as opposite banks of a river often are. Do you see sound as art a possible medium for promoting cohesion and a collective identity?

A: The frame of mind in which interesting things germinate is often more
confused and desperate than organized and confident. (Randy Thom)

I think that sound art definitely brings people with similar interests together and it is a very dedicated and passionate worldwide community – although I wouldn’t make any claims for engendering coherence, as there are many different approaches, philosophies and niches that can all gather under the term ‘sound art’.

Q: Lastly, which bridge in your experience is most memorable and why?

A: The best bridge experiences I have had so far in terms of the actual sound are Brooklyn Bridge & Golden Gate Bridge, which both have exposed steel cables that burble and chatter and screech – and Anzac Bridge, the first one I ever recorded, and still one of the most spectacular. In terms of place, the Novy Most in Bratislava, for the exceptionally cool bar on top of the bridge – you catch a lift up in the pylon to the crazy UFO shaped bar (it’s called U.F.O!) and drink cocktails with names like velvet sarcasm, while looking out over the Danube, an upside down 14th century castle, and on the other side, blocks and blocks of 60’s concrete tower apartments.

The My Thuan Bridge over the Mekong Delta in Vietnam is still the only one where I have bought a mango and had a wild motorcycle ride down from the bridge, and the Mega Bridge in Bangkok was the most exciting experience structurally, as the engineers took us for a ride in their crane up to the top of one of the pylons – 250m high – to see the cables being installed inside. That was amazing. I’m looking forward to the quintessential singaporean bridge experience, and hope it is still possible to throw apples or oranges from the lovers bridge!

Jodi Rose’s work Global Bridge Symphony will be exhibited in the National Museum as part of the ISEA2008 main-juried exhibition. Come listen to the secret language of bridges in their sonic utterance this 25th July to the 3rd August 2008.

Jodi with Keppel Bay Bridge engineers and managers at the newly opened Keppel Bay Bridge

For more information about the artist and project please visit the ISEA2008 main site. Keep checking this site for latest updates and developments in the buildup to the exhibition.