Federation Handbells (2020) Museums Victoria, AU

Sending Signs of Life [Working title]

Development of an interactive pandemic performance antiviral with electronic Federation Handbells

Art in the time of COVID-19 proposed to the City of Melbourne with the support of Museums Victoria and the Federation Handbells

This special project between Sarah Jane Pell and the Federation Handbells is an opportunity for connecting us in a time of distancing. The artist has designed an experimental workflow for creative development. Her plan is to orchestrate the Federation Handbells by using her body choreograph to sound the Covid-19 instructions and responses. Her gestures will articulate the Digital Federation Handbells in a way that the musician could not achieve with the Material Bells. She will work with both local musical and technical collaborators towards a visual signalling station showing the live bell curves of each change in resonance. She will be one-part marionette - controlled by the input of biometric data and bio-political signals from the government and beyond - pulling her to flatten and overlay bell curves, to explore signatures of transmission and transmutation, remission and communication. Outcomes will feature ideas and interactions that are surprising, pragmatic, unconventional, and honest—even if creatively experimental—in the ways that they preemptively address the issues of liberty arising from the current pandemic.


By undertaking creative development with the unique harmonic characteristics of the local Federation Handbells during lockdown in Melbourne, the artist aims to produce to response to this changing bio-political and environmental frequency. The bell is an ancient tool for sounding signs of life, or warning of threats. A symbol of liberty and joy, from victory to remembrance, marriage and war, navigation and communication, instruction and even quarentine. As one of the global millions isolated, confined, alone, with contracts cancelled, threateneed or postponed, risks and costs continue to rise, as do the demands for articulation and creative response. Our individual agency and status is under review. The practice of art proposes an antiviral remedy for the soul. Through creative development and collaboration, exchange and focused experimentation and rehearsal, I can reinterpret the notion of resonance. How do we ring out? How do we sound? How do we signal? What signs of life resound, and can heal, or at least express how we feel? This is a unique way of responding to contemporary history.

Musical and technical collaborators invited Alister Morley, Staccato Productions; Daniel Waghorn and John Pollard Monash University. Expert Advisors Matthew Gingold (acoustic interaction design) and Anton Hassel (original bell sculptor). Special thanks to Susan Bamford Caleo and Biddy Connor, custodians of the Federation Bells at Museums Victoria.

Signalling Signs of Life [Working title] is proposed to the City of Melbourne Arts Grants - Emergency Quick Response in COVID-19 with the support of Museums Victoria and the Federation Handbells. For more information please visit: https://museumsvictoria.com.au/learning/outreach-program/the-federation-handbells/

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