Creating a Community of Human and Animal Ravers in Arbroath

If you go down to the woods outside Hospitalfield House in early September, you’ll find a joyful group of ravers dancing to the sounds of bat sonar. Intrigued? It’s the brainchild of artist Hanna Tuulikki, who loves to build bridges of communication between human and animal worlds. For Echo in the Dark, a project commissioned by Hospitalfield in Arbroath, she’s worked with musician Tommy Perman, using recordings of bat calls sourced by Tayside Bat Group and members of the public, to produce a DJ set of 13 tracks. Visitors will be able to dance to the tracks in a silent rave during a series of evening events at the beautiful residency centre on September 8-10.

“It was one of those moments of weird coincidence,” Hanna recalls to SCAN. Late in 2020 she’d been talking to a friend about making music out of bat echolocation calls, after going on a field trip where she discovered that “the squelching and chirping sequences” made by her bat detector “sounded like the Roland 303 Bass Synthesiser, the iconic sound of acid house and techno!” Two weeks later, Hanna got an email from the team at Hospitalfield inviting her to create a work about the bats that roost on their site.

Tuulikki’s art is internationally celebrated for its exploration of our relationship with other animals: what she calls “more-than-human life.” Her 2015 performance and film-work Sing Sign: A Close Duet, for example, was presented at Edinburgh Art Festival. This year she created the short film Seals’kin for the Sydney Biennial, focusing on our connection to an animal whose semi-human status is reflected in Scottish tales of seal-people or “selkies.” Through other pieces the English-Finnish artist has probed our connection with birds, deer, and many other beasts.

Hanna Tuulikki and Tommy Perman dressed in camouflage and UV glow in the dark face paint to make them look like bats. They are in a darkened room at Hospitalfield House.

In other words, Hanna was the perfect person to pay homage to Hospitalfield’s night-time companions. A plan emerged for a festival-type experience, complete with camping pitches. “Audiences will gather in the garden and get a bat-themed drink,” the artist says, “and special rave wear.” “Then they’ll put on a headset and tune into this hidden world of bat dance music…Guided by a cast of dancers from the local areas, led by our movement director Will Dickie, they’ll be invited into the paddock next to the walled garden, where Tommy and I will DJ our tracks, alongside animations, a laser show, club dancers, and hopefully some live echolocation.” “It’s a whole world we’re creating,” she concludes.

Echo in the Dark is an intriguing idea for a whole host of reasons, not least to do with coronavirus. “Bats were thought to be the intermediate species in the spill-over of the virus to humans,” Hanna points out, “so they’ve been getting a bad rep in the press.” She wants the event to reset how we think about our relationship with these “inspiring” creatures, who use echolocation, a complex series of high-frequency pulses inaudible to humans, to build up a map of their environment and find prey. Perhaps even more than that, the bat rave is a chance for us to come together again as humans: to make new creative and emotional connections. “For so long we were locked away in our homes, during covid, so there’s this exciting prospect of sharing space, dancing and sweating together.”

Creating space for new ways to imagine community, to think about our relationship with each other and with other animals, is exactly the kind of thing that contemporary art at its best can do. “Creativity can help us to reach into our imagination, find new forms of imagination, which might help to support change in ourselves and our communities,” Hanna says. “I want to create a space of connection, whether that be with humans on the dance floor or the bats that have helped to create the music, or the pipistrelles that are circling half an hour after sunset at Hospitalfield. It’s a space to feel.”

Image 1: Hanna Tuulikki in Hospitalfield Garden. Photo by Laurence Winram, makeup and SFX by MV Brown.
Image 2: Hanna Tuulikki and Tommy Perman in Hospitalfield House. Photo by Laurence Winram, makeup and SFX by MV Brown.