Gareth Pugh on White Noise and Finding Solace by the Sea

When tasked with creating an installation exploring ‘Radical Luxury’, the designer looked to the restorative effects of a walk along the beach, he explains

Throughout history, artists, designers and thinkers have turned to the sea for refuge from the chaos of daily life – from Caspar David Friedrich, whose powerful images of roaring waves have become some of the most famous in art history, to Monet’s comparatively calm dappled depictions of troubled waters. And in contemporary culture, where Instagram, email, and the internet all battle interminably for our attention, the enormity of the natural world provides as effective a relief as any.

“Coming from a seaside town, the sea is something I really miss when I’m in London,” Gareth Pugh explains. “So I’m drawn to places like Brighton – psychologically, the feeling of being on the edge of something is so interesting for me. I’m actually quite afraid of the sea – I’m not sure whether it’s the depth, or that fear of the unknown – but it’s an important part of who I am.” So when Selfridges invited Pugh to create an installation reflecting on the theme of ‘Radical Luxury’ as part of its new exhibition The Flipside, the noisy seascape in his hometown of Sunderland seemed a natural draw.

The resulting work – a ten minute-long split-screen film which sees Pugh and his mum slowly walk the whole length of the landscape, is oddly serene; not only because the screens are placed opposite on another in the space, so that you feel as though you’re enveloped in his chosen stormy landscape, all grey-blue sea and sand and sky, but also because it loops on. “We wanted to represent this perfect moment that repeats – it’s a little bit like a time capsule,” Pugh continues. For him, visiting home has a Dorothy-like resonance – that you can click your red heels together three time and find yourself back in a space which is at once familiar and totally recuperative. Though simple, it’s powerfully effective, almost revolutionary in its subversion of traditional ideas about luxury. “The simplicity was necessary to hammer home this idea of clarity and serenity – it’s a meditative thing,” he continues, “and what it is to get a breath of fresh air, or walking down the beach to clear your head. There are so many different noises – it’s important to channel out and really focus on what’s important.”

The soundtrack plays an important role here; though it sounds like a simple, abstract recording of the waves on a quiet day on the coast, it is in fact carefully compiled from white noise. “I have tinnitus in one ear,” says Pugh, “and when I was 15 it was discovered that all the doctors could do was to give me a tiny little speaker that goes underneath my pillow to cancel it out, so that I could sleep. Obviously then all you can hear is the sound of an untuned radio, which is not very conducive to sleep, but I’ve always liked this idea of white noise cancelling out all other noises.” And VOID is nothing if not a call to do just that – to find reflection in the occasional escape from the clamour of everyday life.

The Flipside runs until May 20, 2018 at Selfridges, London.