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art commission

Brian d'Souza: Genius Loci

Published 12 Jul 2023

Genius Loci is the first artwork commissioned for The Couch. In contemporary usage, genius loci refers to a location’s distinctive atmosphere, or a "spirit of the place". Sound Artist Brian d’Souza uses live accordion to reveal the genius loci of Het HEM.

View Genius Loci

As Het HEM closes for renovations and we embark on the adventure that is The Couch, it is very important for us to consider the changes that Het HEM will undergo. Until now, Het HEM’s identity has been inextricably linked to its building. Every Chapter exhibition, the music programme, residency and art commission has responded in some way to the bullet factory on the Nordzee Canal - it’s irresistible. Massive and yet somehow lightweight and airy; carrying the burden of a past linked to war and violence yet able to hold warmth and hope, the building is really something else. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the building was all we had: we clung to the physical spaces that provided shelter and a break from the virtual reality we all inhabited.

And now, for the first time, Het HEM is (temporarily) not home. This digital Couch is where we develop our identity and interests away from the building. It’s been therefore very interesting to us to consider just what it means to be an art institution without a building. And yet, because it's integral to our identity, we want to consider the possibilities of bringing it with us: how can we pivot to the digital while maintaining the core aspect of our sense of self?

Brian d’Souza is a Scottish sound artist and dj based in London. Known for his Covid-19-era 24/7 radio project Ambient Flo, amongst other works, d’Souza is interested in the way that music and sound can create a social situation, can heal, can transport. His ongoing audiovisual artwork beacon.black (2021-) is a 24-hour radio broadcast that deals with the conflicting time- and landscapes of Orford Ness, a retired military site and coastal nature reserve in the UK. The first artwork commissioned for The Couch, Genius Loci follows beacon.black as an interactive audiovisual piece that opens a metaphysical connection between the physical – sound in architecture and landscape – and the digital.

Genius loci, a term derived from classical Roman deism, refers to the protective spirit of a home, crossroads or community. Its meaning has shifted from venerated guardian to the aura that imbues a space, that creates its identity. To create this work, d’Souza brought an accordion to Het HEM, recording improvisations in three of the building’s most iconic spaces: the Grey Space and Expo (factory floors) and the underground, 200m Shooting Range. The recordings are generated by an AI programme into a unique composition, which viewers can further customise by choosing the amount of time they want to spend in the work. The visuals have been conceived and created by Simon Dirks, who documented the three spaces with a LiDAR scanner. The result is a ghostly impression of an empty architectural space: barely a sketch yet still utterly recognisable.

The building’s uses are no longer obvious; the viewer is left to wonder while listening and drifting through the 3D space. You can’t do much: allow yourself to be guided through the space by the swell of the music, as if a different sort of power is taking over. Spend 4, 7 or 10 minutes (or longer!) in these ghostly reflections, and the genius loci of the building may reveal itself to you, too.

All tracks played live by Brian d'Souza at Het HEM using a vintage Hohner Tango accordion, effects pedals and multiple Audio Technica microphones.
Recorded by Karl Choueiri at Het HEM, mastered by Karl Choueiri at Modular Mind Studio. Vizualisation and production by Simon Dirks.

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