I put on NTS Radio at 2 pm, sat alone on a quiet, cold, Saturday afternoon in lockdown, and just listened. I was welcomed to the ‘Tough Matter’ Radio show by Sheffield-based artist and DJ Ashley Holmes in a sombre tone. A melancholic improvised horn-duet by Simon O’Dwyer and Malachy called ‘River Erne’ played in tandem, creating a sacred atmosphere. Holmes explained, this show is an iteration of his ongoing project ‘Open Deck,’ where people are invited to share a piece of music or sound recordings as a means of collective reflection. This edition was in collaboration with Luton-based artist R.I.P. Germain and expanded upon his exhibition ‘Dead Yard’ at Cubitt Gallery in London in late 2020, which explored death and mourning through a sculptural installation comprised of four key works that honoured friends and family Germain has lost. ‘Dead Yard’ formed part of Languid Hands’ fellowship programme at Cubitt called, ‘No Real Closure,’ which the gallery describes as addressing the “wounds of anti-blackness that are always already open.”
I sadly did not see ‘Dead Yard,’ nor in fact much art in the flesh due to lockdown restrictions in 2020, but Cubitt’s online archive provides some insight into the exhibition. Together R.I.P Germain’s tender and detailed sculptures, sound work and a library of radical literature created a space to honour death, grief, mourning and ritual. This edition of ‘Open Deck’ is an extension of the Cubitt space; Holmes and Germain, both as collaborators and close friends, considered how they could use the ‘Open Deck’ platform to expand upon his exhibition. Both artists put out ‘Phone Line Requests’ for ‘Open Deck,’ inviting people to respond to the exhibition in the usual form, through music and sound recordings. In ‘Part One’ aired on the 21st November, accounts of mourning were aired intermittently throughout the broadcast with descriptions such as a “swamp-like heavy-heavy grief”. The openness and vulnerability conveyed through the show was beautiful; it demonstrated how music can be “leant upon” in times of grief, one speaker described this as a means of catharsis, connection and respite — many of the actions explored within ‘Dead Yard.’
A song by Samra Mayanja composed of oral sounds rather than words was played, which she made after the loss of her Father. The song appeared like a breakdown of language; you could hear a guttural ache. Other contributors responded with songs they would perhaps have played at their own funerals and songs that evoked ideas of rebirth, demonstrating, as one speaker commented, how vital spaces like ‘Dead Yard’ are “especially in 2020.”
In ‘Part Two’ broadcast on 19th December, the show began with the crackling intro of artist Bill Daggs’ memorial piece, ‘We Build These To Remember Them’ (2020). The track had a sense of hollowness to it, forming a vacant, sorrowful space. I turned up the volume to hear the clatter of the sounds, which was smoothly and surprisingly followed by Rose Royce’s ‘Wishing On a Star’ (1977), filled with an acute sense of longing due to the emotive lyrics. This sentiment was further expressed by the person that had requested it. They talked about missing their Nana and discussed the feelings and sensory emotions that pair with heartache. They went on to request Hypnotic Bass Ensamble’s ‘Now’ (2017) which was powerful to hear for the first time through this broadcast.
The last song played was from Asher Gamedze’s debut album ‘Dialectic Soul’ (2020). His song, ‘siyabulela,’ is sublime, spatial and spiritual. For this track, Gamedze was inspired by a South African memorial piece played at the funeral of a friend. The slowness to this song is as gentle as leaves being picked up by the wind. The sense of love conveyed in the song echoes the expressions of grief aired on the ‘Open Deck’ broadcasts by the brave callers, continuing an exhibition in memory to those the artist has lost. The title of Languid Hand’s curatorial programme ‘No Real Closure’ draws to the fore.
It’s unusual to be invited into private spheres of grief. These broadcasts imbued the quiet nature of listening, akin to hearing a eulogy; ‘Open Deck x Dead Yard’ dealt with death gently, but with an unforgettable impact.