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TWENTY FOOT EQUIVALENT No. 4 - Steve Hellier - Field recordings and video

Twenty foot Equivalent No.4 - Steve Hellier - Field recordings and video September 2019

The latest in an ongoing series of audio/video investigations into the theme of shipping containers, London-based artist Steve Hellier presents a new video installation made in response to these ubiquitous, yet often overlooked, rectangular forms. 


Uniform and efficient, containers are symbols of globalisation, traversing land and sea in vast numbers. Yet they also epitomise faceless transactions, in a world where technology has increasingly displaced human labour. Drawing on industrial music from the 1980s – itself the product of an era of economic shifts, including those brought about by containerisation – Hellier has recorded percussive and resonant encounters with these familiar steel boxes. Using high sample-rate recordings and ambisonics, they reveal the sonically hidden stories. Evoking the ghosts of their contents and journeys, each vessel resonates differently, depending on its (unidentified) load and undisclosed history. 

The piece also features the (mostly male) phenomenon of ‘container ship spotting’ as visual source material for these distorted journeys. Its title references both the universal system used to describe cargo capacity for intermodal containers (the twenty-foot Equivalent Unit being 1 TEU) as well as he modular sculptures of America Minimalist sculptor, Carl Andre.

The overall effect of Hellier's work is a haunting sonic and visual experience, which evokes a sense of the uncomfortable and encourages the visitor to reflect on 21st- century displacement and the unending 'trafficking' of goods - material and people - around the world.