It sounded at first as if there were people inside the exhibit: chatting, talking. I walked around the corner, expecting to see other museum visitors. But what greeted me was a dark and unsettling space - empty except for army boots, piled up in the gloom. There were no human voices - the sounds that I had heard were just an echo, piped fragments of conversation.
As I stepped further inside the installation, I began to get more and more disoriented. Recordings were being played simultaneously from several speakers placed at intervals along the walls. The cacophony of noise continued to rise: the dreaded trudge of army boots, eerie cries of marching calls interspersed with recitations of wartime poetry. Sound bites from soldiers discussing everything from why they signed up, to coping with the loss of their fellow men.
Standing in the middle, I felt as if I was in the midst of a battlefield, assaulted by sound
If a picture can paint a thousand words, then a sound can trigger a million mind images." Amie Slavin, the artist who created Other Ranks is blind. Capitalising on her finely tuned hearing sense, she uses 'audio palates' consisting of voices and found and designed sounds to create her works. Slavin believes that sound is a rich material to raise awareness of issues and evoke strong emotional reactions in her audience.
Other Ranks uses the sound recordings of voices of squaddies or 'ordinary' soldiers to animate and give life to the men and women who selflessly give their own lives in battle. In her artist's statement, Slavin encourages visitors to move around the space and explore the soundscape, spending time in front of each speaker. That way, individual voices can be heard distinctly and the proximity creates an intimacy between the viewer and the voice.
Photographic imagery on the floor quietly documents the lives lost in war
Once my eyes adjusted to the gloom I noticed that the floor was littered with photographic imagery. Thousands of photos of soldiers, mothers, wives and daughters, each one documenting a life affected by war. Often times, the loss of war is measured in terms of data and numbers of fatalities. Here Slavin uses poignant reminders - such as photographs or pairs of empty boots to illustrate the cost of each life.
Other Ranks by Amie Slavin is a multi sensory experience built to celebrate and commemorate the lives of soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice. It is showing at the Leeds Armouries until March 2013.