Nursery rhymes and tall tales combine with music in A Collective Memory of Childhood by artist Michael Szpakowski, which has been delighting visitors to Finsbury Park (From Enfield Independent)
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Nursery rhymes and tall tales combine with music in A Collective Memory of Childhood by artist Michael Szpakowski, which has been delighting visitors to Finsbury Park
Walk through the Olympic Park on any day this month and you’ll hear every language that’s spoken in the world. For many visitors, this medley of native tongues will be a real novelty. For Londoners, rubbing shoulders with well-travelled neighbours is one of the joys of living in the capital.
In Finsbury Park, where a true mix of nationalities can be found on every street, a piece of sound art has been launched to celebrate the variety of languages and peoples residing in the area.
A Collective Memory of Childhood , by artist Michael Szpakowski, features nursery rhymes and stories from children and adults, spoken in the dialect of their home nations and put to an ambient soundtrack.
“One of the things I find exhilarating about coming into London is getting on a bus and just hearing so many languages,“ says Michael. “My dad was a Polish immigrant to the country after the war so I have a real enjoyment and feeling for that sense of diversity. I wanted to reflect that diversity in the borough.“
The work is made up of 367 sound files of local residents singing nursery rhymes and telling stories of their youth.
“It’s an aural medley of childhood related things,“ explains Michael. “It rapidly became clear that it would be like herding cats to get people to do exactly what I wanted! Some of the reception-age kids just wanted to count, so there’s counting in Tibetan, Swedish, Turkish, Albanian – all sorts.
“There was one guy who gave us a story in Latin American Spanish about an event that happened when he was a kid that frightened him – he got chased by some wild dogs on a beach.“
As well as outreach work in the community, Michael went to Coleridge Primary School in Crouch End Hill to record the playground rhymes heard there.
“You can recognise them doing the rhymes that you did as a kid,“ he explains, “but they’re subtly altered or their pop culture references are different. Because the rhymes are being said by so many kids they have a kind of polish to them, which is really beautiful.
“It’s not poetry in the normal sense but it has an elegance about it. It’s a bit like a stone being rubbed and polished by the sea: so many mouths have been round the words that they flow really well. Even if it’s slightly vulgar or the grammar isn’t right there’s a kind of perfection about it that’s really beautiful. It’s just the best poetry.“
The children were also asked to sing rhymes in their parental tongue – with some interesting findings.
“Twinkle Twinkle Little Star seems to exist in virtually every culture or some version of it. There’s a Swedish song about a little star, a Polish one. There’s a Hungarian song from a young girl, about going to market with half a penny and hearing the various animals do their noises, just like Old MacDonald’s Farm.
“In a small way it brings home the huge commonality of people’s experience.“
The voices are combined in the piece with a summer tinged soundtrack made up of 200 sound loops of which five are called up at any one time to accompany the spoken track. A computer programme picks the loops, so that combinations are never repeated. The result is an atmospheric piece that is already intriguing passers-by as it plays from the Furtherfield Gallery.
“For me it does sum up a certain atmosphere of London and Haringey in particular,“ say Micahel. “I’m committed to the notion of diversity, people from different cultures coming together in ways that emphasise what we have in common, rather than what divides us.
“I think it’s really important in these straitened times, when it’s easy for one group to blame another group, just because of superficial differences, it’s important to recognise all those things that bring us together.“
A Collective Memory Of Childhood surrounds the Furtherfield Gallery in Finsbury Park and can be heard during daylight hours until September 21. Details: furtherfield.org