File Note 83: Sarah Tripp - Camden Art Centre

Essay by Katrina Palmer



Radio Writing Residencies 24 Stops Images References Quote Biography Credits

Radio Writing Residencies

Sarah Tripp’s 24 Stops is the first in a series of performances for radio broadcast commissioned by Camden Arts Centre in collaboration with UCLH Arts and City Beats Hospital Radio. Tripp’s work centres on different approaches to narrative and storytelling; working across film, performance and printed words, her practice is rooted in observation and experience. For this project Tripp has produced a work comprising twenty four chimes — short audio segments of percussive sound and spoken word — to be broadcast hourly. These chimes mark the passing of the day, acting both as temporal markers and a meditation on the perceived character of a given hour. The text below was commissioned from artist Katrina Palmer in response to the first live performance of 24 Stops at Camden Arts Centre, Sunday 23 June 2013.

Guy Noble, Arts Curator, UCLH art and heritage

Ben Roberts, Public Programme Organiser, Camden Art Centre


Radio Writing marks the start of a collaboration between Camden Arts Centre and UCLH Arts. Each residency commissions an artist to create new work for both hospital radio and live performance.

24 Stops

Perhaps, when we consider it, the nature of Tripp’s work has a conical outer shape: in this sense she employs a form somewhat akin to a loud speaker — the distant point of the action that is being described gradually opens out to the circular plane of performance, inversely the bold proclamation of a public address is traced back and in towards the private human voice. From here she allows us to laugh at our attempts to assert ourselves in the public space where we might only express our inability to represent ourselves.

When we come face to face with strangers in the semi-darkness: the given circumstances might reduce all of us to an externality that defies character. What can be conveyed of character in that instant is reduced to an economy of signs; pointers that suggest particularity such as timbre of voice or boldness of gesture. Watching Tripp’s performance we might wonder about the possibility of communication, about observed and observable individuals in a room, about character as nothing more than these externalities. As in part an observation on the shape of individuality, there is in Tripp’s artwork something reminiscent of G.W.F. Hegel’s passages on physiognomy, although her words deliver the sphere of appearance obliquely and with subtle humour.

Almost hidden by a lack of light: Tripp indicates communication but stands in relation to its non-disclosure. On the one hand, her narratives are generously conveyed through precise coordination of her own spoken words, a translators’ sign language and percussive instrumentation on film. On the other, her elusive dead pan storytelling gives little away. Even in semi-darkness, sign language should be expressive — hands literally speak in a flickering display of articulation. But here translated expression transpires as an indication of meaning rather than expressiveness which might suggest divulgement. With every hour a novel chime is effected on film, a signal which might ordinarily herald an announcement, or someone’s presence, or something else. Drums roll, light bulbs rattle, cymbals clash — and what is announced is the attempt to say something through a series of reflexive narrative fragments. These are small, everyday experiences, but the connotations are impressively universal. In twenty four scenarios, we experience fleeting interactions and we witness the ways in which the impression of human character is contrived from this quirky gesture, or that idiosyncratic use of words, or these mannerisms that are repeated and reinforced, as if they build up to something — as if they could add up in an almost mesmerising way, to something more than a series of such repeated incidents. 

This is a work with hypnagogic qualities and gently comic undertones: the somnolent regularity of its passages, Tripp’s impassive neutral delivery, the elusive transience of the depicted scenes, the slow measured pace of the action. Each attempt to communicate is self-contained, so that rather than threatening to coalesce into a storyline, we are presented with storytelling as shadowy suggestion, character as a glimmering possibility and precise time marked by wavering moments of uncertainty. It is as if we are feeling for human forms to ascertain meaning in the darkness. We develop imagined understandings in a way that both denies and augments our engagements, because we are unable to present any conclusively identifiable features, but we find a peculiarly ironic empathy in discovering that we are strangers to ourselves as well as others. If we were in a shared dream we might encounter each other in gentle interactions shaped like these; through the slow motion replay of languid miscommunications and incidental slips, with the familiar and the everyday around us, but engaged with at an oddly chimerical distance; where this distance enables us to ‘transform or imagine character as fluid, to snuff out a certain kind of seriousness and consistency, making space for play, invention and humour.’ 1

Our interpretations of the work are implicated as the process of translation plays out: the percussive chimes appear to set off a chain reaction that reverberates in a sequential manner through the interconnected media, from the percussionists’ diverse renderings of the notion of ‘chime’, to the myriad descriptions in the speakers aural narrative, to the hand-signed versions of events shaped by the translator. The narrative recedes through the multifarious possible interpretations of other audience members, to our individual inferences. We might close our eyes, but instead of disappearing into our inconsequential imaginings of the fictional/factual characters, we find them reflecting what’s at stake for us all as players: “She lowers her head and listens inwardly. What is it to summon something in your mind, to choose a word and keep it hidden, on the verge of utterance yet obscured?” 

There’s a compassionate pathos to narratives projected in this manner. In Tripp’s compelling world we see that we hold open the possibility of communication at one extremity, but we are also at the other end, so much smaller, never seen in our entirety, or never entire to begin with.

Stop 17

I cannot leave the office unlocked
because it contains valuables.
The caretaker is on his way;
I hang up.
Men walk past the window
talking outside,
talking on their way home.
I open the door and peer down
the corridor.
He’ll either be here
any moment now
or else in a while.
I keep one eye on the valuables
and one eye on the corridor.
He’ll either be here
any moment now
or else in a while.
The value of the valuables stops
me leaving the room.
He’ll either be here
any moment now
or else in a while.
Even if he started off very far away,
he should be here any moment now.
He’ll either be here
any moment now
or else in a while.
The caretaker has either forgotten,
or misunderstood
or doesn’t care.
They’re not my valuables.

Sarah Tripp, transcript from live performance, 23 June 2013.


1 Sarah Tripp in conversation with Katrina Palmer, August 2013

Christopher Bollas Being a Character: Psychoanalysis and Self Experience Routledge (2006)

Lydia Davis Varieties of Disturbance: Stories Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2007)

Fernando Pessoa The Book of Disquiet Serpent’s Tail (2010)

Adam Phillips Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life Hamish Hamilton (2012)

Adam Phillips On Flirtation Faber and Faber (1994)

Francis Ponge Unfinished Ode to Mud CB Editions (2008)

Jan Verwoert Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want Sternberg Press (2010)

Apichatpong Weerasethakul Syndromes and a Century BFI (2007)

D.W. Winnicott Playing and Reality Penguin Books (1988)

 ‘I hear the hour struck by some bell or clocktower — it must be eight o’clock though I don’t count. The banal fact of the existence of time, the confines that social life imposes on continuous time — a frontier around the abstract, a limit on the unknown — brings me back to myself.’  Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet, 1991


Sarah Tripp was born in Beverley, East Yorkshire in 1971. She teaches Fine Art at Glasgow School of Art and Goldsmiths College. In 2009 she was awarded the Scottish Arts Council’s Visual Arts Residency at Cove Park. She has recently shown work in Adaptation, Collective, Edinburgh (2012); What We Have Done, What We Are About To Do, Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow (2012); Decalcamania, The Exchange, Penzance (2011); Becoming a Character, Glasgow Project Room (2010) and S˘ım-po¯’ze¯-m, Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art. Her film and video works have been exhibited in the UK and Europe including Camden Arts Centre, London; Sparwasser, Berlin; Cornerhouse, Manchester and Manifesta 3, Ljubljana. Her writing has been published in Pist Protta, Vol 71, Space Poetry, Denmark (2013); The Happy Hypocrite, Issue 5, Book Works, London (2012); Rong–Wrong, Vol 1, As Is Press, Amsterdam (2012); It isn’t what it used to be and will never be again, edited by Bik Van der Pol (2011) and 2HB, vol4, CCA, Glasgow (2009). She co produces the journal gnommero and the festival What we make with words. In 2013 Tripp will have a book published by Book Works, London and will present 24 Stops for TENT in Rotterdam.


Katrina Palmer is an artist based in London.