Caroline Locke is one of the UK’s most innovative interdisciplinary artists and is internationally renowned for her sound sculptures and work combining new and old technologies. Locke was born in Somerset, where she studied at Somerset College of Art and Technology. She was awarded a First Class Honours degree at Nottingham Trent University and later studied for an MA in Contemporary Art by registered thesis.
The early roots of Locke’s work lie in Performance and Live Art, working with movement, dance and large-scale sets and media. The presence of a performer in her installations was sometimes replaced by the ‘presence’ of a machine, mechanism, or projections of her own recorded performances. In 1992 at Dean Clough in Halifax – in connection with the Henry Moore Foundation – Locke hung a 40 foot pendulum over the loading bays of the mill face. Only functional when moved manually by people, this work introduced ongoing areas of investigation in Locke’s work: notions of direct interaction; the transference of energy from one body to another, and the relationship between moving human and mechanical bodies.
Locke continued to work with mechanical elements and also grew increasingly interested in water, rhythm and flow systems. Domestic appliances became a source of fascination and she began making them run backwards, the idea of reversal becoming an important theme heading towards the turn of the new millennium – as though trying to turn back time.
As part of the Intermediate exhibition at Site Gallery in 2000, Locke exhibited Maelstrom, a work that used the coriolis effect to conduct water through spiraling pools, and Dog Tail Tale, comprising industrial spin dryers revolving in opposing cycles. A further piece, Bad Noise, was the artist’s homage to the fast disappearing vinyl record. She worked with musicians to produce a series of soundtracks that were only complete when two records were played at the same time – one in reverse. This work attracted much attention, touring to Berlin and Brisbane, and lead to Locke spending time at Abbey Road Studios in London where the soundtracks were mastered and cut onto vinyl records.
Maelstrom was developed further at Nottingham Castle to become a piece of site-specific public sculpture in the grounds, with five pools sending water cascading in opposite directions along the side of the Eastern Terrace steps. In 2002 Maelstrom became part of the Vandskel-Watershed exhibition at the Kunst Centret Silkeborg Bad, Denmark.
In 2001, running alongside Opera North’s touring Opera, Locke was commissioned to create an installation based on Dubussy’s Pelleas and Melisande with dancer Kerry Nicholls and music by Tractor. Three video loops follow the emotional experiences of the three characters involved in the love triangle which dominates the story line. Water-filled steel tanks reflected the imagery of video projections on the surface intermittently broken by vibrations which turned calm pools into turbulent waters.
The City Gallery, Leicester commissioned Breath in 2002, which harnessed the circulatory force of water and the sound vibrations of the human heart to immerse the viewer in the experience of natural polarities: expansion and contraction; stability and instability; order and chaos. Breath was also shown at the Mile End Arts Pavilion, London, and in 2003 was part of The Crossover Water Project in partnership with the 3rd World Water Forum in Japan. Alongside the work, Locke presented an associated seminar at Whitechapel Art Gallery, London and led seminars and events in Kyoto and Toyota.
In 2004 Locke exhibited Fear Factor Seven at The Bourgie Gallery, Melbourne, Australia. A seven-screen video installation, it explores our curious relationship with superstitions, expanding the themes of opposition and reversal by turning superstition on its head and deliberately spilling salt, crossing knives and breaking mirrors.
The following year, Locke received an award for excellence in research for Hydrophonics, a live performance where musicians’ instruments were connected to water tanks so that the sound waves were visible on the water’s surface. The audience was able to watch and listen to sonic compositions based on the sight of the sound.
Later in 2005, 2006 and 2007, Locke spent time working in Australia, where she completed a term as visiting academic, working within the Centre for Electronic Media at Monash University, Melbourne. The residency culminated with a live web cast performance where the artist sent live video and audio streams to connect two simultaneous performances in the UK and in Melbourne. She was also international artist in residence at Raw Space, Brisbane. A film made during the residency was shown as part of Uncovered at ARC Biennial, Brisbane 2005.
In 2007 Locke worked in Melbourne with Casey Rice to develop software and hardware, which was later updated for the interactive Sound Fountains. In September of the same year, she installed permanent sculptures The Maastricht Sound Fountains within the New International school of Governance at the University Of Maastricht, Holland. For this site-specific work, the artist recorded student voices and sounds from the environment around the building. These sounds were processed and combined within synthesised tracks, then amplified through the surface of the water to create waveforms and fountains.
Through 2008 and 2009 Locke worked with microscopes to develop Sound Inventory, using recorded sounds from around the world collected over almost two decades. Some of these processed samples were then passed through water and captured using digital stereomicroscopy to create beautiful and intriguing images, each revealing a clear visual relationship with the original sound source. Each sound, place of recording, date and time is notated in an inventory chart.
In 2010 an updated Sound Fountain travelled to Neerpelt in Belgium and was exhibited for a season as part of Klankenbos (Sound Forest), a permanent collection of sound sculptures in the open air. Sound Fountains were revisited and the software updated for an exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary in 2011 and as part of an artist residency at Yorkshire Sculpture Park in 2012. Locke is currently developing Singing Pools, commissioned for the Klankenbos permanent collection.
As Senior Lecturer in Fine Art, Locke is currently a Principal Researcher within The Digital and Material Arts Research Centre at The University of Derby.