The Work Quartet – Sounds from Beneath

A project by Mikhail Karikis | a video by Mikhail Karikis & Uriel Orlow

2011-2012, 6′ 47″

January 7 2016 – January 26 2016


“What sounds are specific to this community and how are they to be remembered? Are official language and ceremony adequate memory keepers of the miners, and of their achievements, resistance and culture?” Mikhail Karikis


For Sounds from Beneath Mikhail Karikis invited a coal miners’ choir to recall and vocalise the subterranean noises of a working coal mine. Karikis then invited artist Uriel Orlow to collaborate on the video, which depicts a desolate colliery in South East England brought back to life through song. The spoil heaps of the abandoned mine are transformed into an amphitheatre resonating with the sounds of underground explosions, mechanical clangs from the tools biting into the coal-face, wailing alarms signalling the end of a shift, or an emergency, and shovels clawing at the earth, all sung by Snowdown Colliery Choir grouped in formations reminiscent of picket lines. Sounds from Beneath extends Karikis’s exploration of the sculptural and political dimensions of voices and their relation to professional identity and marginalization, and connects with Orlow’s interest in landscape as a site of memory and history.


Echoes from the Deep: Katerina Gregos reflecting on Sounds from Beneath

“At once political and poetic, the film cuts through any expected conventional documentary realism and resonates with pathos dignity and emotional force. It functions as a salvaging of memory, an ode, a tribute, and a requiem all at once, and the song echoes as an act of redemption. The work raises the spectre of of dark subterranean excavations and captures the essence of the act of coal mining, while recalling the picket lines and intimating a strong sense of male identity and the solidarity of sharing a common purpose in work and in song… [read the essay here]”

Courtesy Katarina Gregos

The Lament of the unlamented

“The project Sounds from Beneath emerged as an artistic response to an invitation by an arts festival in Kent in South East England to create a site-specific work. The piece orchestrates an aural reunion of a group of former coal miners on a disused colliery, and discovers a mode of voicing that responds to their professional specificity, charged with the political and historical dimensions of their community and culture. Rich in its industrial history from the time when coal played a primary role in British life, fuelling domestic fires and industrial furnaces, and stimulating the socio-political and cultural life of the country – from unions to choirs – the Kentish landscape is marked by the radical urban, social and economic changes that have taken place in Britain since the mid 1980s. Lush green hills are punctuated by barren and disused collieries, vast shopping malls, former mining villages and their alienated regenerated versions… [read more here]”

Mikhail Karikis in Voice Studies: Critical Approaches to Process, Performance and Experience (Routledge, 2015).


Performance: Snowdown Colliery Male Voice Choir

Sound: Mikhail Karikis

Camera: Mikhail Karikis & Uriel Orlow

Supported by Arts Council England and The Whitstable Biennale Screen Shot 2016-01-07 at 11.15.06

Mikhail Karikis

Mikhail Karikis (b.1975, Thessaloniki, Greece) studied architecture at the Bartlett School before completing an MA and PhD at the Slade School of Fine Art. He lives and works in London. Selected solo and group exhibitions include British Art Show 8, Leeds Art Gallery, UK; Art in the Age of Energy and Raw Material, Witte de With, Rotterdam, Holland (both 2015); Listening, Hayward Touring, UK (2014-15); 19th Biennale of Sydney, Australia; Inside, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France; Assembly, Tate Britain, London, UK (all 2014); Aquatopia, Tate St. Ives and Nottingham Contemporary, UK (2013-14); SeaWomen, Arnolfini, Bristol, UK (2013); Manifesta 9, Belgium (2012); and the 54th Venice Biennale, Italy (2011). A more detailed cv can be found here.


The Work Quartet

Karikis began the Work Quartet in 2010. Each work in the series explores similar issues; the relationships between voice and specific communities, between subjects and work contexts and the possibility of alternative modes of organisation, of a new political imaginary. The series is made up of: Xenon (2011) – exploring frustration, self-censorship and sense of failure in office work environments; Sounds from Beneath (2011) – a collaboration with a Kentish miners’ choir that bring back to life an abandoned colliery by collectively recalling, vocalizing and singing the sounds and noises of their former place of work; SeaWomen (2012) – a body of works focused on a community of Korean female fishers and on their specific vocal practice; and Children of Unquiet (2014) – a collaboration with a group of 45 children, aged between 5 and 12 years old from the Devil’s Valley region of Tuscany, Italy, in which the children ‘takeover’ an abandoned industrial village, the children’s speculative and playful interventions challenge narratives of a failed human project and evoking different possible, desired or imagined futures.

Mikhail Karikis - Children of Unquiet (2013-2014) video still-2

Mikhail Karikis on The Work Quartet – from an interview with Digicult

“On an emotional level, the series suggests a sort of progression. Xenon expresses the kind of state of mind I was in when I made it. I felt trapped. It was less than ten years after 9/11, in a period were political changes were happening and neo-liberalism in UK and Europe was celebrated, before the Occupy Movement and the turbulent student protests in the UK and across Europe. So the main question was: how can we express ourselves if the power of political speech and language has been hollowed out?

“In this regard, Sounds from Beneath was a kind of solution (perhaps ‘solution’ is not the right word here, but it was a kind of solution in terms of my practice) where I explored the possibility of creating a political vocal gesture that was neither propaganda nor sloganistic speech. The miners vocalize something that is connected to the specificities of what they did, their memory and community, and at the same time they reclaim the political agency they were denied in their protests and strikes. Their abstract vocal acts are specific to their community and go beyond predictable political speech. At that point, something happened in my practice and in my thinking. Yet, I was still engaging with memory – with something that had happened in the past and was reactivated now in the form of recalling.

“This is the reason why SeaWomen had to happen: the project is about a disappearing but still active, independent, self-sufficient and dynamic community of women subverting expectations of the male-dominated context they exist in. SeaWomen was the first project that marked a change in the way I felt in terms of my agency as an artist and the way I can affect the world around me. I think of Xenon as a sort of ‘toxic’ work in that it is very critical, punishing and polemical; Sound from Beneath is a re-collective lament, while SeaWomen displays dynamism – the old women’s bodies are active and powerful and represent a model of existence that gave me hope.

“So, moving to Children of Unquiet was deeply meaningful in my practice. It encapsulates this process and could not have happened four years ago. It needed the background of all the other projects and research. For the first time, I worked with children. The project poses questions about the future: what do we leave to the next generation, how do we empower them to change things? Moreover, if we talk about the film, it actually has glimpses and methodologies of all the other projects: the recalling of sounds of specific places, for example, or the acts of speech that are somehow subverted. These are elements I developed by working on the projects that preceded it.”

The full interview can be found here.

Courtesy of Mikhail Karikis, Elena Biserna and Digicult.

“What do we leave to the next generation, how do we empower them to change things?” Mikhail Karikis

Love as a political force?

“Love is an institution of revolution.” Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Commonwealth, 2009

“So love, simultaneously, is a revolutionary force and creates sustainable bonds that resist change. Hardt and Negri transpose these observations in the field of politics by asking: how is it possible to think of a political system that exists through revolution and constant change and, at the same time, creates sustainable bonds? For me this seems to be the fundamental question in relation to industrial village of Larderello in the project Children of Unquiet. There was a pioneering, innovative industry – they invented geothermal energy production – that was possible only because of change. A community was created because of that – people moved there to work, to operate the power plant. The industry did not stop changing and introduced automated technology. This shift created a fracture and disrupted the connection with the community. The industry was not able to sustain its bonds with the people that made it happen in the first place. Why was that? How is that possible? If we think through Negri and Hardt’s ideas, that change should have engaged the community so that those bonds would not have been destroyed. ‘Love is the institution of revolution” is really about this. We usually think of institutions as stable and revolution as a change, but love contains this contradictory dynamic – it is able to create both stability and change. I really stand by that.” Mikhail Karikis in an interview with Elena Biserna in Digicult.  The full interview is available here.

Mikhail Karikis - Children of Unquiet (2013-2014) video still-4

From Children of Unquiet, Hardt and Negri on love

Love is not a spontaneous or passive experience.

Love doesn’t just happen to us.

Love is an action…

it’s a biopolitical event realised in common.

Love is a productive force.

In love we produce a new world, a new social life.

We exist in relation to others and we constantly have the power to intervene.

Here is a puzzle about love:

it shatters the structures of the world you know and creates a new world.

In love, you gain a new body, a new being.

But love also has another, seemingly opposite face.

Love binds you in a way that feels it will last forever.

So, we are left with two notions of love that are equally unlivable.

One: that love is all about change. Two: that love admits no change.

The two faces of love pose a problem when considered in political terms.

On the one hand, a political love must be a revolutionary force…

Overthrowing norms and institutions.

On the other hand, a political love must provide mechanisms of lasting association…

And table social bonds to create enduring institutions.

Love is an institution of revolution.

A transcript from Children of Unquiet of children reading from Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s, Commonwealth, 2009.

Simon Critchley on love as the faith of the faithless

“In a word, the institutions of secular liberal democracy simply do not sufficiently motivate their citizenry… one might go further and argue that modernity itself has had the effect of generating a motivational deficit in morality that undermines the possibility of ethical secularism.” Simon Critchley, Infinitely Demanding – Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance, verso books, 2008, pp.7-8.

“Politics is always about nomination. It is about naming a political subjectivity and organizing politically around that name.” Simon Critchley, Infinitely Demanding – Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance, 2008, verso books, p.103.

“The massive structural dislocations of our times can invite pessimism, even forms of active or passive nihilism… but they can also invite militancy and opitimism, an invitation for our capacity for political invention and imagination, an invitation, finally, for our ethical commitment and political resistance… It is time we made a start.” Simon Critchley, Infinitely Demanding – Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance, 2008, verso books, p.131-2.

“If political life is to arrest a slide into demotivated cynicism, then it would seem to require a motivating and authorising faith which, while not reducible to a specific context, might be capable of forming solidarity in a locality, a site, a region… This faith of the faithless cannot have for its object anything external to the self or subject, any external, divine command, any transcendent reality.” Simon Critchley, The Faith of the Faithless, 2012, verso books, p.4.

“A faith of the faithless that is an openness to love, love as giving what one does not have and receiving that over which one has no power.” Simon Critchley, The Faith of the Faithless, 2012, verso books, p.7.

“[A] politics of love, in which love is understood as that act of absolute spiritual daring that attempts to eviscerate existing conceptions of identity in order that a new form of subjectivity can come into being.” Simon Critchley, The Faith of the Faithless, 2012, verso books, p.12.

“For reasons that are still slightly obscure to me, but which this book begins to clarify, the question ‘how to live?’ has become the question ‘how to love?’ Love is not just a s strong as death – it is stronger.” Simon Critchley, The Faith of the Faithless, 2012, verso books, p.20.


The use of sound in The Work Quartet

“Sound is our guide; it choreographs the filmic sequence, our visual experience and our attention.” Mikhail Karikis.

“A distinctive and original dimension of this body of work [The Work Quartet] is its audiovisual methodology which combines social engagement and community performances, moving image and sound installation creating immersive displays. The works in the Quartet centre on distinct auditory concepts and focus on sound as a vehicle of human memory, imagination and action. They explore the voice and communal sound-making as agents connecting people to specific sites of production, asserting human dignity and purpose through work, as well as highlighting alternative models of existence, activism and industry, evoking both past histories as well as different, probable or imagined futures.” Mikhail Karikis.

“I’m very interested in nonsense sounds because they seem to break free from the rigorous structures of language and make us think about vocal communication in a different way.” Mikhail Karikis.



Artists website.

Interview with Yvette Greslé in FAD Magazine.

Interview with Elena Biserna in Digicult.

Children of Unquiet website.

Mikhail Karikis at British Art Show 8.

Interview with British Art Show 8.