Sound Experiment

Ita Monaghan and Úna Monaghan

16-18 June 2018

This month I collaborated with Ita Monaghan to produce “Sound Experiment” in the Old Labs at Newnham College.


The Old Labs at Newnham College was built as a chemical laboratory towards the end of the 19th century. Women students were not permitted to access the main laboratories in Cambridge University, which was only open to men.

With this installation we think of the overlap between science and creativity. Creativity, often imagined as being magical and spontaneous, may have process and structure. Scientific enquiry, characterised as methodical and logical, can have moments of realisation and sudden unexpected ideas.

The Old Labs at Newnham are now used as an arts venue, but some artefacts still remain on display in the foyer. Chief among these is an original fume cupboard, in which we conduct our sound experiment.

What byproducts, no longer extracted, influence the observers? Samples of sound are taken by our sample in the test tube, and the other microphone observer. We think of interactions between elements and interactions between people.

We think of the unintended consequences of experiments which lead to other unexpected discoveries; our work as artists lead to responses from audience that we may never discover. A fume cupboard is one of the few places we can control a reaction.

Air protected, floating test tubes. Controlled environments for experiments and gallery environments for art.
Is the fume cupboard open? Is the gallery closed? Is the artwork accessible? Is the methodology accepted? Are the standards rigorous?

There are limitations to our experiments, our language and our communication.
The control experiment is fleeting – we cannot tell what you take away because we don’t know what you are bringing.

You can hear thoughts on this topic from Cambridge researchers at the listening post opposite. We are all both scientists and artists. We all sample, isolate, investigate, consider, test, expect, combine, define, compare and classify.