1 October 2004
Nottingham Evening Post (Essential Guide p.30)
The resulting body of sneeze-data is recorded as a 17 metre long graph, spread across three walls, which uses stickers to record each and every sneeze. Very good. But why? Mark Patterson talks to artist Ellie Harrison.
Did you know that, when you sneeze, your eyes close automatically to prevent your eyes from being squeezed out of your head? Surprisingly, that is one fact about sneezing you won’t learn at Ellie Harrison’s new exhibition in the Wallner Gallery at Lakeside Arts Centre. One does, however, acquire the knowledge that Ellie sneezed 318 times last year; and she knows this because she recorded the exact time and date of every sneeze from New Year’s Day onwards. In Sneezes, the resulting body of sneeze-data is recorded as a 17 metre long graph, spread across three walls, which uses stickers to record each and every sneeze. Very good. But why?
Harrison, a 20-something fine art graduate of Nottingham Trent University and Goldsmith’s College in London, has been making a name for herself as a recorder, and ingenious displayer of, useless masses of information about life’s forgotten mini-dramas: the daily snacks, the steps taken across a room, the text messages, the pages of as book read, and kilojoules of energy burned off. In one year long project, titled Eat 22, Harrison recorded and photographed every meal she ate over the course of a year. The compressed digital film she made from the images received widespread coverage and was also shown in a Science Museum exhibition. In another marathon event, she measured the distances of her daily commutes on London’s transport system and worked out, incrementally, how far these small trips would have carried her across the world. And so on. And now Sneezes.
The exhibition grew out of a longer term project in which Harrison set herself the task of recording 14 daily activities including the number of people spoken to, units of alcohol consumed, daily weight gain or loss. While marking these measurements down, she also, informally, noted down her daily sneezing, recording the data on a set of colour coded cards which eventually formed the basis of the wall graph. “I just like the idea that you never know when a sneeze is going to happen,” says Harrison. “They occur by accident. By writing them down you make a record of something you normally forget straight away. “There is, of course, something potentially scarily obsessional about this recording of such personal trivia. But Harrison’s art – the placing of personal minutiae into the public realm in stylised over-organised formats – has “ultra-contemporary” written all over it; it seems to act as a mirror to an over-cautious, over-organised age in which the value of human activity is increasingly measured in league tables and official targets.
Harrison also like the idea that each sneeze is like a little forgotten moment in time. And she adds: “The main thing is getting people to discuss things which are going on in their lives all the time but that they might never notice. When people think about those things and start talking about them they can make a connection. They say ‘Oh, do I do that too?’ ”Was there anything about her year’s big sneeze which surprised her?“I’m surprised by how many sneezes I did. I did 318 but in August, for example, I only did five. So, no, I don’t have hay fever. When I stopped recording them, I still noticed that I sneezed and thought ‘I used to write that down.’ But it seemed to me that I sneezed a lot less afterwards.”
Looking ahead, Harrison’s London commuting adventures are set to go on display in Piccadilly Circus underground early next year; and then she is curating a show at Nottingham’s Angel Row Gallery called Day-to-Day Data in which she will be contributing some fresh daily record of personal information.