Contemporary British artist Mark Peter Wright’s unusually jocular relationship with the microphone inspired this examination of his practice in relation to the French thinker Roland Barthes’ theory of the mythologies. In addition, this article will compare Mark Peter Wright’s artistic development to the legendary Don Quixote’s journey through La Mancha. According to Barthes, a myth is quite simply a type of speech, a way of conveying something. These myths mostly borrow models from history, whether political, artistic or natural to create a make believe, to communicate a set of ideas, values or an ideology as if they are entirely natural. Barthes explains the very principle of a myth as “transforming history into nature” (Barthes, 1972). These mythologies are the products of a personal perspective and almost always express the intention of their speaker. What, then, does Wright intend to tell us through his work? He is perhaps making a critique of nature vs. technology. However, this reading would fall into the danger of being too commonplace and one-dimensional. How does one create a semiotic language through sound which encompasses animals and the natural environment as well as humans and our artificially constructed social environment; and ultimately what would be the point of this effort?
What is the essence of communication? The microphone might only seem like a tool to record or amplify sound to many. In Wright’s methodology, however, it becomes the physical embodiment of a long line of investigation into the endless possibilities of communication. The microphone almost becomes his sidekick, his very own Sancho Panza. In his adventures, Wright drags the microphone along some rocky hills, throws it into the air in a busy square in London, he dresses as the microphone himself and runs around the woods.
Mark Peter Wright, I, the Thing in the Margins, Performance/installation: sound, film, costume, chair, amp, cables
A photograph of Bigfoot or Sasquatch, photographer unknown
Although highly performative, Wright’s practice is strictly tied into the realm of the language. Following Barthes’ footsteps, we can suggest that the sound is a part of our semiotic system of communication and therefore can be described as a mythical notion. The language is a symbolic field in which, the sounds materialise as words and concepts (Barthes would call it ‘the signified’) through the cognitive mind, just like the microphone appears to be a folkloric insect. Wright is also engaged with the other side of the natural world, which is in essence highly cryptic and pseudo. This is a man-made reality which also includes many mythical creatures such as the Bigfoot. In one notably humorous example, in “I, the Thing in the Margins”Wright makes a costume out of a wind muff, a fuzzy fabric used as a protecting cover for a boom mic. While he aims to turn himself as a human size microphone to go running in the woods, he, at the same time, ends up looking like the famous mythical animal, Bigfoot. In “Humanimentical Prototypes”he turns a small microphone into a bizarre and almost archaic looking spider-like creature. These two powerful experiences thus correspond to the Barthesian mythologies in the contemporary world.
Mark Peter Wright, Humanimentical Prototypes, Assemblage: microphones, cables, welding wire, acoustic foam, recorder
Arachne the Weaver, A woman transformed into a spider in ancient Greek legend
In Cervantes’ acclaimed novel, Don Quixote of La Mancha becomes so fascinated by the tales of chivalry, he sets out on a long journey to gain experience as a knight. The stories of knighthood in the case of Don Quixote are the very mythologies which Barthes postulates. Just like Don Quixote, Wright too adopts a very particular form of speech, mythology, and re-creates, re-enacts it to explore a truth. In the adventures of Don Quixote, we are not quite sure if we are reading a parody of a medieval genre or simply an imaginative fiction. Barthes would agree that Cervantes as a writer, seems to have indulged himself in the mythology of writing, which can be characterised as a double meaning or a whimsical bridge from the literal to the literary. The same level of satire and playfulness also exist within Wright’s practice. When he approaches the microphone as a parasitic insect, he too blurs the lines between the truth and the fiction, sanity, and insanity. He creates a hybridisation of the myth and the reality, his own quasi-narratives, akin to the cryptid* creatures such as Bigfoot and The Mothman, a humanoid insect. However, nothing stands the test of time. The mythologies and folklore go through a change for centuries, and so does the microphone by the developing technologies. The physical transformation of the microphone in Wright’s works is a result of his search for a non-negotiable truth in the sphere of perpetuating personal and historical mythologies.
In a most fundamental sense, Mark Peter Wright and Don Quixote are both re-inventors of mythologies and seekers of truth, and they pursue it in the most bizarre ways. Wright’s endeavour implies an alternative and eccentric method of research, which enables him to gain knowledge through episodic adventures into the world of unique creatures, humans, odd legends, and technological devices. In this respect, his works are not refined and resolved to convey an individual message but rather they constitute the pieces of an infinite puzzle to understand the nature of our symbolic reality, to uncover the many faces the sound might take.
*cryptid: an unidentified creature whose existence is not proved scientifically but solely relies on verbal myths.
Barthes, R., Lavers, A., P.R. and Barthes, R. (1972) Mythologies. 17thedn. New York: Hill and Wang.
De Cervantes Saavedra, M. and de Cervantes, M. (1992) Don Quixote.United Kingdom: Wordsworth Editions.
lizleafloor (2014) The symbolic spider that wove its way through history. Available at: http://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends/symbolic-spider-wove-its-way-through-history-002215 (Accessed: 8 April 2016).
Mark Peter Wright, Current projects (no date) Available at: http://markpeterwright.net/currentprojects/ (Accessed: 7 April 2016).