Alexandra Bell is a multidisciplinary artist, materials engineer and explorer. Originally trained as a classical musician and composer, she played solo violin in some of the great concert halls of the world before touring with jazz funk bands as lead singer/songwriter. With an M.Sc. in materials engineering, Alex worked as a corporate director in medical device innovation and business leadership for many years, whilst maintaining a parallel creative practice. She returned to study at GSA to formalise her practice in the sonic arts. Alex believes that the creative process is universal regardless of domain – that the most innovative artists have interests in science and vice versa.
Originally from Belfast, she has lived, worked and expeditioned on all continents, often in remote cultures and landscapes, before setting up her studio overlooking the sea in Scotland. Alex’s practice explores the intersection between culture, arts and science to confront entrenched ideologies and beliefs. Her work incorporates sound, music, moving image, sculpture, writing and performance to create immersive experiences which challenge perceptions and stimulate empathy for the counterargument. She is concerned with 21st century “mauvais foi” (bad faith, Sartre), where we evade the responsibility of discovering and understanding ourselves and the consequences of our actions, failing to exercise integrity and autonomy in life choices.
Recent exhibits include a visualisation of the sonic landscape at Fife Energy Park as part of the Forthline Project (2022-23); the one hour sound walk “Treasure Hunt for the Imagination” (winner of the Leith School of Art Contemporary Art Practice Prize 2020, newcomer feature at Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2021, 2022); and the sound journey “Portal” (shortlisted for the HearSay International Audio Prize 2021, broadcast on Glasgow’s Radiophrenia and Soundthought Festivals 2021). Print and audio-visual media have been exhibited in The Royal Scottish Academy, Royal Botanical Gardens and Patriothall Galleries in Edinburgh.
The Wave is not the Water I & II
This immersive Light, Space and Sound garden was inspired by a W.B. Yeats poem about being still and silent. In the context of keyboard warrior noise, cancel culture and emotionally aggressive discourse on social media, the artist has designed a safe space by visualising sound vibrations. It articulates the light of our dreams and allows us to breathe. Whilst being a beautiful sensory environment, the piece asks us to reflect on the value of community and collective responsibility compared with the disease of decadence – narcissism and the cult of individuality. The title refers to ripples at the surface of matter, which do not reflect the body or depth of it, an allegory of media-loud and self-aggrandising “slacktivism”. Concerned about the decline of respectful reason and debate, this work creates a place to be still and silent; a place where light and sound open a path to our subconscious in order to slow see and deep listen.
The work can be experienced as an a-political sensory piece or political chamber.
“We can make our minds so like still water, that beings gather about us. That they may see, it may be, their own images. And live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life. Because of our quiet. Our silence.” Yeats, William Butler, (1893) The Celtic Twilight: Faerie and Folklore, Dover Publications 2011
This binaural short art film uses spatial sound and AI (artificial intelligence) to imagine a dystopian world future in the 2120s (use headphones for the full sound experience).
Climate change has been realized – southern countries are super-hot, drought-ridden and cannot produce their own food. World power (economic, military, technological, cultural) has pivoted from West to East. A third world war has resulted in a worldwide citizenship charter aimed at rebalancing global access to education and healthcare in exchange for citizen responsibility, where personal decisions, behaviours and outcomes are tracked in a skin chip. The UK has declined into a low gross domestic product service sector tourist destination where the British are desperate to emigrate or marry into the opportunities existing in India and China. The public sector (including the NHS) went bankrupt in 2043. Scotland is one of the few places comfortable enough temperature-wise to be outside for a holiday. The film takes us on a journey via a time machine into the future where Edinburgh’s Leith is now a popular Lido, and a travel journalist interviews Asian visitors.
Retaining this futurist outlook, the work experiments with artificial intelligence (AI) for audio and visual elements, as a future creative tool. Repeated text-based instructions developed machine learning over time, training AI to the artist’s style. 540 paintings, archive animations and avatar voices were created using AI tools, however not all components are AI – challenging the audience to wonder which aspects are human or artificial.
This soundscape presents a woman’s journey home after a Saturday night out, thematically underpinned by the ‘Reclaim These Streets’ movement, which aims to make streets safe. The work was inspired by the murder of Sarah Everard at the hands of a Metropolitan Police Officer and aims to generate empathy around the experience of street crime, ask the listener to question what can be done and raise a call to action for all.
All the sounds in the work are representational. For example: (1) Seven steps are used as rhythmic musique concrete throughout – The Seven Steps programme from Plan International shows how to be an active bystander near a woman walking alone at night. (2) Gas stove sounds are used to illustrate the ‘gas-lighting’ of women’s experience. (Gas lighting is a form of psychological manipulation where a false narrative leads to someone questioning their own reality.)
The Materiality of Sound
This installation and research project presents the encounter of sound through materials and forms, and how the experience differs from scientific acoustics expectations. The work explores the effect of shape and structure on sound activation, and cultural perspectives of materiality in creativity. The piece extends the work of the 1960s Light and Space Art Movement (LAS), which exploited the interaction of light and materials. The addition of sound aims to develop the LAS concept in a contemporary context, encouraging the viewer to immerse in the work over an extended period, changing the personal mechanisms of perception over time, in a rejection of the distractions and anxiety of current day “always-on” communications.
This short art film explores the alteration of relationships and the land because of the pandemic – both forced separation and forced proximity (Deora means tears in Gaelic). The work acts as a memory, capturing moments in time and reflecting our need for physical social interaction as well as physical space. The sound and poetry is inspired by the land, starting with a group of women ‘wind singing’ during Storm Arwen on the Isle of Skye and ending with a newly composed score sung by a choir singing in the sea. The primary influence for the piece was author Isak Dinesen’s quote “The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, sea”.