‘Sump’, the collaboration between Benedict Drew and Nicholas Brooks, takes its title from the industrial swamps where undesirable waste liquids such as water and chemicals are dumped. The two artists first met at the Slade School of Fine Art, where they discovered a shared interest in natural, earthy elements – mud, rocks, liquid crystals, fossil creatures – and synthesised sound. These interests have been brought together to form ‘Sump’, the artists’ own rendition of a swamp, built through video, sound and sculpture.
The compact gallery space of Project/Number (where ‘Sump’ is on show) is dark, its windows blacked out by layers of green paint, tissue and bits of rubbish. Chris Rawcliffe, the curator of the show, is there to show me around. The whole show is around 17 minutes long: a film is projected onto the front wall, to the right and back of the room are two smaller screens and, towards the centre of the room a spotlight, for now unlit, facing a speaker. The show is built on layers: from the back of the room a rope, covered in jesmonite and hair, hangs down from the ceiling, framing the projected video and following the verticals of the three screens and speaker that are staggered (or rather layered) across the room.
The projected film, the central component of ‘Sump’, is made up of ten, twelve, fifteen layers of heavily edited video that Drew and Brooks filmed in their studio and the countryside. The footage is of various life forms on both micro- and macroscopic scales – foliage, animated folds of paper, text and melting wax, collections of anonymous cells. The footage pulses, flits and spans across the wall. The sound is a combination of generated and live mix, edited to the rhythm of movement in the video. The room is thick with glutinous and moist sounds. Towards the end of the video the words ‘NIGHT-TIME’ are projected on to the wall, followed by a collection of letters that form syllables rather than words. Drew and Brooks have stripped ‘Sump’ down and emptied it of narrative, leaving a swamp-like mass of images and sounds for the audience to digest.
Footage seeps across the smaller screens, the images kept minimal with occasional lines of text. A stand, sculpted from jesmonite and covered in thick paint, is built around one of the screens and moulds itself onto the wooden floorboards. The whole show and its various works are built to be one immersive piece, Chris tells me, designed to make the audience, standing in the centre of the room, move between screens. The sound dilutes as it moves through the night-time footage, before erupting into a cacophony of sounds and images that ends the video. The spotlight beams onto the speaker. A woman speaks, her voice filling the room, the words swamp/sump/swamp/sump sinking, swamp-like, drawing the show to an end.