At Home Salon feature: Body Clock by Sarah Nicolls

Ahead of her installation in ‘At Home; a 21st Century Salon’ next month at Brighton Festival, Home Live Art invited Sarah Nicolls to tell us more about her piece Body Clock – what it is, where it came from and how the themes explored relate to her own life.  Here’s Sarah’s response:

My installation is a full-size grand piano tipped vertically and then set swinging from side to side, like an enormous piano metronome.

The piano is from 1900 and has beautiful gold bars inside it, which will set off reflections in the gold of the room’s mirror and chandelier.  I created it to play ‘inside’ the piano more easily – so the strings are totally available to the performer to pluck like a harp, as well as having piano keys as normal.  When I made it I hadn’t expected it to swing – this was a by-product of the frame design – and I realised it was a metaphor for having children: we can have an idea about something we’re creating but in fact, until something exists in the flesh we won’t fully know it (and of course children just keep on growing and changing).

In the show I mingle the birth of the piano with the birth of my son and also try to put the chaos of motherhood on the stage, literally changing imaginary nappies whilst playing the piano with the instrument turned fully onto its side.  After, I collapse against the keyboard balancing diagonally on the ground, playing whilst seemingly asleep.  The music is all my own and is on my album – available as a download and as a Limited Edition piano key with a USB-key embedded in it.

I’ve been touring the show around the country and have been meeting parents and collecting birth stories, and through doing so, I’ve been continuously reminded where the idea originally came from for me.  When I was probably 37 and preparing for the leap into trying for a baby, I skimmed a lighthearted Guardian article by a single woman probably of the same age, saying that every time an eligible man approached her, they were probably put off by the fact that as soon as they got close they could just hear this very loud ticking.  I thought that was funny but I could also completely relate. I think I became a bit manic around that age and felt I needed to ‘get on with it’. I had never been a baby person, wasn’t madly broody in a ‘oh, they’re so cute’ sort of way.  Much more in a ‘oh man, I’m going to be 40 and apparently there’s a statistical danger there’ll be seriously ill if I don’t do it now!!’ sort of way.  There wasn’t a huge amount of contemplation relating to how it would actually be…

So, I related to this columnist – I could hear my own ticking.  I realised the piano on its own could be my body, my ticking, as well as the perpetual motion of motherhood, growth, life, pulsing, and that rocking that all mums do, even if they’re not holding a baby (I have rocked an empty pram a few times…).

Resident in the Regency Room throughout the Salon, my hope is that visitors can contemplate this relationship of our own internal rhythms and our changing external pressures, or perhaps more simply, just to take time to think about time.

www.sarahnicolls.com