Town Hall Meeting of the Air

Town Hall Meeting of the Air is an exhibition and public programme conceived by Tess Denman-Cleaver and Kate Liston that thinks about the poetics of civic gathering.

Collaboratively developed since 2018, Town Hall Meeting of the Air looks at how architecture shapes public gathering and language. A focus on the sensory and material experience of gathering eulogises the silences, stutterings and physical proximity lost in digitally-mediated togetherness.

Town Hall Meeting of the Air draws on research into ancient assembly sites, abandoned parliaments, radio broadcast history, utopian literature and the experimental and politicised writings of novelist and poet, Gertrude Stein.

The project began as a commission for Middlesbrough Art Weekender (2018) responding to time spent at Middlesbrough Town Hall during a two month residency, funded by Middlesbrough Town Council and Arts Council England. The first performance event combined poetic text, live radio broadcast and scenography to explore public discourse and the architectures of democracy. Development of the performance included a public workshop for all ages, in which residents of Teesside were invited to make radio jingles with musician Jeremy Bradfield, build town halls out of foam and create poetic agendas for a fictional town hall meeting of the air.

In 2020 Tess & Kate produced a podcast, Volcanoes & Utopias, for Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art as part of the ongoing development of the project during lockdown.

At BALTIC 39 (2021) Town Hall Meeting of the Air included an installation, an audio work, a publication, a working radio booth and curated works by invited artists. An online radio station designed and scheduled by the artists broadcast a series of live events and archive content for the duration of the exhibition including live performances, discussion events and archive recordings of the original ‘America’s Town Meeting of the Air’ radio show (1935-1956).

The exhibition at BALTIC 39 hosted work by Anna Barham, James Newrick and collaborators Rosie Morris and Taryn Edmonds. The programme included work by Rachel Cattle, Allan Hughes, Anna Barham & Irene Revell, James Newrick, Sundaraam Tagore, archive films and radio broadcasts from the artists research, and contributions from artists and researchers David Bell, Rachel Hann, Alex Niven, Alex Goody, Hamja Ashan, Kate Sweeney, Kate Stobbart and Verity Birt.

See details of the full BALTIC 39 programme here.

Listen to an audio description of the exhibition at BALTIC 39 by Louise Ainsley here.