Urban Runes

multi-channel sound installation with video for solo viewer

There is a human tendency to turn to nature in order to seek a sense of spirituality, yet a large part of Australia's population lives in large industrialised cities. Why do we not seek spirituality from the environment that surrounds us, with its intriguing clutter and clamor?

Since escaping suburbia over 15 years ago I have predominantly lived on the edge of industrial zones around inner city Sydney. Though built for functionality rather than aesthetics, they offer their own kind of poetics. I particularly love an industrial zone on a weekend when it is sleeping and deserted, like a ghost town. Increasingly these sites lie dormant beyond weekends as industry has moved elsewhere. Walking around these areas I began to notice curious markings on the walls of these shells of productivity. What were these strange symbols—messages from retrenched industrial deities?


A selection of these symbols have been gathered together as a set of Urban Runes, but instead of using text or languagethe fortune told is through sound. Each rune uses a specific field recording of industrial or noisy domestic origin. No extra material is added, but by teasing and torturing the sonic material, hidden voices are discovered and these industrial spaces begin to sing. Urban Runes, continues my investigations into intimate, immersive sound driven installations, that, while not complexly interactive, implicates the viewer in the work, with the intention to encourage stronger engagement and focus on the aural realm.


There is of course a pragmatic explanation for these symbols—they are the bas-relief of adhesive left when a sign has been removed. However each tradesperson has left their mark, wielding their glue gun with their own style, according to their own inspiration. Are factory walls so different from caves walls?

Pose a question of the Urban Runes…

View Urban Runes key to meanings (PDF)

Concept, sound, images: Gail Priest
Max/MSP programming: Wade Marynowsky
Video editing: Sam James

This project has been developed in residence at Artspace as the second stage of the the exchange between Artspace and Tokyo Wonder Site.

During the first stage in residence at Tokyo Wonder Site, I developed
28 Songs for a City: Tokyo

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