Hinterland: Renegotiating the Archive: Sound and Picture Poems

Darryl Georgiou and Rebekah Tolley-Georgiou

Part of Creative Multilingualism / Slanguages, an AHRC funded project, led by Oxford University, investigating connections between linguistic diversity and creativity.

Language is communication and at the heart of us being human. It is non-static. Hybrid. Slanguage is the result of languages being in a constant state of flux. Artist duo, Darryl Georgiou & Rebekah Tolley-Georgiou (Georgiou & Tolley), are interested in the alternative, counter-cultural uses of verbal, textual, phonic, and visual languages. Their view of society, culture, and reality is mediated by the instability, ambiguity, and untranslatability of languages, which are used to signify a perception of the world. Just as William S. Burroughs proclaimed, “Word Begets Image and Image is Virus”… “Language is a virus from outer space.”

Hinterlan Archive: Handsworth Celebration. Georgiou & Tolley.
Hinterland Archive: Handsworth Celebration. Georgiou & Tolley

Hinterland means many things.

Hinterland: Renegotiating the Archive - Sound & Picture Poems, explores the notion of multilingualism, cross-cultural encounters, and the ‘untranslatable’; a project to fill the holes in language and visualise something, when language isn’t quite enough.

Hinterland consists of new contemporary artworks, made in response to artist/educator Darryl Georgiou’s personal photographic/film/sound/image archive. The archive, entitled Mercia B21, largely documents the English Midlands (Mercia) and comprises a repository of 5000 analogue photo-images and 100 hours of cine-film, captured in Georgiou’s birthplace, Handsworth (10/07/81-10/07/90). It also includes digital sound recordings and artefacts (1990-2005) as well as audio-visual material captured in Coventry, where he has worked since 2000.

Hinterland: Cultural Memory. Georgiou & Tolley.
Hinterland: Cultural Memory. Georgiou & Tolley.

Georgiou & Tolley returned to the archive to mine artefacts in order to examine how history re-animates memory (when actively recalled in the present) and to consider how flawed that recollection can be. Hinterland is based on the duo’s ongoing artistic practice-based research, exploring the idea of history, memory, and archive as ‘cultural memory’. Their research questions how the re-presentation of work can help shape the image of the present or have some bearing on the here and now. 

Experiments for Hinterland were made by re-negotiating the image archive through a contemporary cut, copy and remix approach, to create examples of ‘untranslatability’, where image, sound and text collide.

Hinterlan Archive: Sari Shopping. Georgiou & Tolley.
Hinterland Archive: Sari Shopping. Georgiou & Tolley.

One of Georgiou’s archive photographs, Buffet Tariff (Villa Cross Tavern), itself based on an original artefact sourced from the Villa Cross Tavern (a significant landmark in the Handsworth civil disturbances of September 1985), became the departure point for a new Sound & Picture Poem audio-visual artwork. Authored by Tolley-Georgiou, ‘Talking Trifle’ is a language-game of sorts, concerned with semiotics. The piece considers visual and verbal language within the context of lexical gaps between image, voice, sound, and text. The practical foundations of the work were laid by conducting a series of workshops, with participants/communities across the Mercian region (and beyond), recording people’s attempts at translating items from a menu board into a range of indigenous dialects, with a particular focus on the term ‘trifle’. The common query, “What is Trifle?”, is a perfect example of the slippage between languages, of ‘what’s lost in translation’. How do you tackle the word ‘trifle’, linguistically? Taking the work beyond just the text, the artists looked at ways beyond language, looking at those lexical gaps, and highlighting something as innocuous as a traditional British dessert. Exploring photography’s capacity to act as a ‘visual language’ and using systems of Dadaist cut up and re-presentation Talking Trifleis also concerned with people and place. Evoking cultural narratives and memory, through superimposed image and text, as a meta-language of infographics, contemporary hieroglyphics, Morse code, dots and dashes, to represent ideas.

Ultimately, this post-colonial, buffet menu artwork, became a world map of history, memory and identity, and, of course, cultural ‘taste’ (in every sense of the word); by default, a hybrid mongrel of shared language, culture, and experience.

When we began the journey of the Hinterland project, our ambition was to develop an ‘outward-facing’ project, working with others, across a range of cultures, languages, countries, nationalities, and borders. The Midland (Mercian) conurbation has contributed to the diversity of British culture; its multicultural towns and cities enriching lives through music, art, and food. Our Hinterland artworks seek to celebrate the diversity found in these Mercian borderlands, with the wider project involving creative partnerships with regional, national, and international communities, as well as with emerging artists, and individuals from the original archive. Hinterland has an overreaching narrative, that also references hauntology, urban geography, and psychogeography, with Hinterland itself serving as an umbrella term for how places feel (genius loci).”

The wider project includes a range of conventional and novel formats, fostering broader participation through democratic and accessible forms of delivery. The ‘Hinterland Limited Edition Box Set’—comprised of physical artwork, sound art, and photographic-prints, including Buffet Tariff (Villa Cross Tavern), an archive photograph that explores national culture and British food as historical memory—exemplifies the project’s diverse outcomes. The box set also contains artwear, such as the Trifle T-shirt (Buffet Tariff)—a popular form of ‘wearable art’—portraying a retro British menu vernacular and café culture slanguage (available through artslabinternational.com). Hinterland audio content has been broadcast via internet radio (Brum Radio), and its long-form radio work is also available on Mixcloud. Participants could also access the work via social media.

Hinterland: Limited Edition Box Set. Georgiou & Tolley
Hinterland: Limited Edition Box Set. Georgiou & Tolley.

Taking the work forward, a second phase of the Hinterland project considers the notion of the archive, set against the backdrop of a post-pandemic Mercia. Work that attempts to rediscover some of the long-lost spaces, places or individuals contained within the original archive, or trace those ‘missing persons’ that have disappeared with time.

In an undoubtedly altered world, Hinterland is perhaps a hopeful statement of unity, in a time of post-Brexit isolation and COVID-19 quarantine. Whatever the situation or challenging circumstances may be, it’s important for us to connect, communicate and collaborate. In a broader sense the project also poses the question: Who writes the history of the future?

Hinterland: Identity & History. Georgiou & Tolley
Hinterland: Identity & History. Georgiou & Tolley.

Hinterland is important because it all starts and ends with ‘visual language’. The point being, that we are interested in where and how things connect, change, and transform. Hinterland allows us to join the dots, and create cross-platform stories, ultimately reflecting on the way we live today. Our wider research potentially develops alternative communication systems, coded languages, pictographic, ideographic, signed, or performed. A speech-less language, otherwise known as Art.”

Georgiou & Tolley collaborate as an artist duo. Their ‘socially engaged’ practice often explores the “tension between truth and fiction, history and memory; questioning the way that we map and classify the world, to understand it”. ArtsLab international is an online studio and laboratory, for collaborative art projects, founded by Georgiou & Tolley in 2018. ArtsLab takes as its inspiration, The Artist Placement Group (APG), which actively sought to reposition the ‘role of the artist’ within a wider social context, stating that, “context is half the work”.


Watch Talking Trifle: A Hinterland Sound and Picture Poem>>

yellow and red text on blue background
© Georgiou & Tolley (2020)

Listen to Hinterland Radio Broadcast: Experiments in the Archive>>

Listen to Hinterland: Sound and Picture Poems: A Radio Film Trilogy>>

About the artists

Hinterland by Darryl Georgiou, Artist and Associate Professor, Coventry University, and Rebekah Tolley-Georgiou, Artist, Film Maker and Lecturer, Documentary: Theory and Practice, Birmingham City University. In partnership with Professor Rajinder Dudrah, Birmingham City University, who is leading on Slanguages as part of the Creative Multilingualism project based at the University of Oxford.

#Hinterland #HinterlandSoundandPicturePoems #RenegotiatingTheArchive 
#ArtandLanguage #WhenLanguageIsNotEnough #SociallyEngagedPractice #TalkingTrifle 
#BuffetTariff #Mercia #Poetry #Art #Radio #HinterlandRadio #ExperimentsInTheArchive 
#WherePastMeetsPresent #PeoplePlacesStories #Slanguages #CreativeMultilingualism