An Trinse sets a swirling soundscape of hypnotic drones, tumbling synthesis and double bass, courtesy of Maxwell Sterling, against stroboscopic fragments of 3D renderings of prehistoric sites, grainy, monochromatic fractals stamped with ancient glyphs and ancient, science fiction schematics.
As An Trinse, Northern Irish audiovisual artist Stephen McLaughlin reckons with the cultural history of Ireland with sound and image, mapping what he describes as “the uneasy atmospheres and silences left in the Irish psyche in the aftermath of colonial and religious repression, using archaeology and ancient history as a conduit.” Of particular interest to McLaughlin are bog fossils, specifically, the incredible preservative effects that the anaerobic environment of bogs can have in relation to natural tannic acids that result from the natural degrading of peat moss. “Bogs themselves contain a unique environment free of oxygen which prevents the growth of bacteria which would normally decompose flesh,” explains McLaughlin. “In their place are a species which degrades peat moss to form humic acid, which acts as a natural embalming environment similar to the process used when tanning leather.” This process can result in the perfect conditions for preservation, with ancient artefacts including bog wood, barrels of bog butter, entire farming landscapes enveloped by blanket bogs and bog bodies, with skin, hair and internal organs intact, having been found in incredible condition up to 5000 years after they were submerged in the wetlands. “There is a general mystery surrounding these artefacts,” continues McLaughlin, “and it is unknown whether the bodies were the result of human sacrifice, a punishment for a crime worthy of shame or honour, but they have captivated artists and thinkers as diverse and Joseph Beuys, Seamus Heaney, Sigmund Freud and Karl Jung whose feud over the meaning of these bodies inspired my earlier work, Corpses From the North. “They emerge as what Karin Sanders calls: ‘corporeal time capsules that transcend archaeology to challenge our assumptions about what we know about the past. By restoring them to the roster of cultural phenomena that force us to confront our ethical and aesthetic boundaries…excavates anew the question of what it means to be human.’”
It is within this frame that An Trinse explores Ireland’s violent history of colonial and religious oppression, incorporating iconography and the fossilised prehistoric culture of Ireland into his abstract excavations of cultural memory. It was during research completed as part of a collaboration with Sardinian artist Il Santo Bevitore, the same collaboration that served as the starting point for the above audiovisual work, that McLaughlin made the discovery that some of the oldest human remains unearthed in present day Northern Ireland, which date back about 5000 years, share close ancestral relatives with native Sardinians. “It is hard for the archaeological imagination not to run with this,” continues McLaughlin, “given the similar myths of giants, megalithic constructions and the concentric rings that run through both cultures’ artwork, which has been found as far away as the USA, and imagine there was some ancient network running between these cultures. Maybe it was simply through the slow process of cultural transfer, but perhaps a more mystical technology.” It’s these twin secret histories of ancient technology that McLaughlin explores in Humic Acid Regress, setting a swirling soundscape of hypnotic drones, tumbling synthesis, passages of uncanny ambience and double bass, courtesy of Maxwell Sterling, against stroboscopic fragments of 3D renderings of prehistoric sites, grainy, monochromatic fractals stamped with ancient glyphs and science fiction schematics. Mechanised, filtered footage of abandoned human settlements, as though plucked from an archive for extraterrestrial research, is superimposed with a self-generating, organic user interface, as though the artist has recovered the advanced communications technology of a lost civilisation from unknown depths, dripping with bog acid.
Ordnance survey maps of interstitial spaces seem to plot a lost megalithic network, while the overlay of an interconnected matrix of golden transmitters gestures towards the kinds of technology now lost to these ancient civilisations drowned in soil and moss. In this collage of imagery, McLaughlin seeks to trace an alternate history of these mysterious sites, developing a multidisciplinary practice he describes as “based on research undertaken looking into connections between ancient civilisations and the speculative history of a global prehistoric society with advanced manufacturing technology that was destroyed by some kind of apocalyptic event leaving few clues to their origin. There is something especially troubling here, deep in the Anthropocene, where signs of societal and ecological collapse seem to loom.” What McLaughlin effects, then, is a form of audiovisual time travel, in which his non-linear depiction of a speculative ancient history generates a space in which hidden pasts bleed into lost futures, a concept he lifts from the writings of The Teardrop Explodes frontman and Neolithic authority Julian Cope. “Another influence was Julian Cope’s ‘Time-shifting Gnostic Hooligan Road Novel,’ One Three One, where a psychedelic traveller finds a way to journey to ancient Sardinia through massive doses of hallucinogens,” says McLaughlin. “Over the last 30 years Cope has become an expert on the megaliths and ancients of European prehistory and has published several highly sought-after books on the subject that point towards a complex and mystical society that, despite being much more advanced that conventional wisdom would have us believe, has also left very few clues to who they were or how they met their end. These two different types of acid fused into imagining an ancient technology, travelling through time and space, within the ecology of the bog.”
“The piece itself was developed as the end of the current An Trinse live show that has been showing this year,” continues McLaughlin. “The backbone has remained, but what has gone over the top has been in flux, so I only recently had the idea of having Maxwell to provide strings to add some humanity to the chasms of noise.” You can catch Maxwell Sterling performing live with Stephen McLaughlin, who will provide live visuals, at Cafe Oto on December 6.
An Trinse will perform live at [ADSR]4, an experimental music event showcasing new and international sonic artists. Ticket are available now.