Life Echo By Justin Wiggan

The Open Gallery

When Nadine and I first walked into the Birmingham Open Media, we weren’t too sure what to expect. What we were greeted with was the project Life Echo, created by Justin Wiggan. In front of us lay three person-sized boxes, each one of them with a small hatch to get inside. Within, a series of sounds were being played that represented the memories of three select groups of people. The idea was to get inside these boxes and experience the memories of others through sound.

Box 1 – Memories of the Homeless

The first box that I sat in to experience resounded with memories of those who had experienced homelessness. There were a few things that instantly became apparent when I listened, notably the sound of a bicycle bell chiming. This was followed up with the sound of footsteps on what sounded like gravel. Living on the streets must mean that you’re always exposed to noise, the hustle and bustle of everyone else’s life around you. This seems to be the obvious link to the bike and footsteps, as they were always exposed to it. However, the chiming of the bell and crunch of the gravel were much more positive sounds than I expected. It’s almost like there was an element of happiness to the tone of the sound. The feeling I got from this is, that whilst the memories were something the homeless experienced every day, the specific sound represented when they were less accustomed to these feelings. Where cycling or the crunch of gravel was still welcoming. It’s almost like the outside world used to be a comfort to them, before having to deal with it all the time.

Box 2 – Old People’s Memories 

The immediate thing I noticed when entering this box was a very distinct clinking sound, which was unmistakably that of teacups. Very British I know, but it seemed rather apparent. As I listened closer though, I heard a number of other things. Static turned into radio voices, the sort of radio voices you’d hear on old recordings, with a very firm, assured British male voice narrating. It wasn’t clear what he was saying, but as it went on, the sound morphed into old music. The music was muffled and faint, but was still identifiable as classic tunes from an era where older people might have been in their prime. I can imagine a couple dancing around their living room, with the fire lit and the radio playing out in the corner on an old wooden table. Vintage furniture would have made up the decor of the room and this helped give me an overall feel for this box. It represented nostalgia, the prominent things people remembered from their youth, and the good times they had. Whilst it might have all been a bit fuzzy, the memory still remained.

Box 3 – Kid’s Memories 

This box was a bit harder to decipher at first. It was also the only box I fully lay down in, although I’ll get to that in a bit. At first, the sound was very abrasive. There was a lot of noise echoing around the box, without anything decipherable or recognisable really. After listening for a bit longer though, I began to understand why this was. Nothing specifically jumped out at me, but this definitely represented the childlike state. A lot goes on when you’re a kid, and every experience is something new. Making sense of all of this when you’re young is almost impossible, so it’s no wonder the sound jumped all over the place. There was also a sense of uncertainty, or even worry underlying the noise, but this was backed with excitement and wonder at everything that was going on around. However, as soon as I lay inside the box, my experience was completely different. I felt extremely calm just lying in the box, listening intently to the sounds, and as I lay there, I was remembering events from my own childhood. The strangest thing is I can’t even remember now what went through my mind in that box. It’s like an experience that was locked with those sounds, with the main thing being a wave of calm washing over me, and I couldn’t help but smile.

The Life Echo experience was not at all what I was expecting. It really opened my mind and made me think about how other people viewed their own lives and memories. Overall, the fact that each box gave off happy, positive vibes was really heartwarming to be honest. To know that what people truly remember is good memories should undoubtedly put a smile on your face. It certainly put one on mine, and I wish I could experience Life Echo again at some stage. If you get chance to experience it, don’t pass up on it. It’s a brilliantly striking art project that you’ll come away from with a lot more than you’d imagine.

Hey, It’s Nadine here! I didn’t go inside the boxes like Josh did. I just listened to what I could hear from the outside, but I truly believe that you can only fully appreciate what Justin was doing by lying down inside, closing your eyes, and letting the sounds take you to that persons world.

Justin is a sound installation artist which was something that I was interested in doing myself if I was to put on an art/music exhibition of some sort (showcasing my own work). Josh pointed out when we were reading the brief of the project on the gallery wall that I have sound-colour synesthesia (where I either associate or project visually a colour when a certain sound is played/heard) and this project reminded him of that. It’s like sound-memory synesthesia; if that’s even a thing! But it’s true that music and sound have the ability to take you back to the time and place where you first heard it. It helps you to remember emotions, a situation, a place.

I believe that music is the best therapy. Life-Echo was a project that took place over the course of 20 weeks with people who were in their final stages of life. Some were prisoners. Some elderly, and some were young and had so many more years ahead of them. Each box represents each category mentioned. They wrote down the things that they remembered over their life, things that were beautiful to them and that made them happy. Things they wanted to think on when they were coming to the end.

Josh and I were quite honoured and quite taken just by being ‘allowed’ to share those memories with those individuals. Though we will never know them personally or be able to truly understand what they were going through, we were able to get a glimpse and for however long Josh laid there and I stood there, we were lost in the memories that were deemed beautiful by those gone by.

Visit: life-echo.com

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