1. Faith Hughes
  2. Ali Glover
  3. Christina Cushing
  4. Jos Nyreen
  5. Miriam Aston-Hetherington


  1. Miriam Aston-Hetherington
  2. Mayfly Listening Device
  3. John Trundle Court, Barbican, London
  4. 29th March 2024, 14.35 GMT

Mayfly Listening Device is a mixed-media installation by Miriam Aston-Hetherington situated in a residential lift in John Trundle Court, Barbican between 14.35 and 15.28 GMT on the 29th March 2024. The lift moved up and down from the basement to the sixth floor throughout. 

The 29th of March was our fifth visit to the lift, Good Friday. Our previous trips had added up to many minutes spent inside with the doors closed, first when it had been lined with blue fabric padding used to move furniture in and out of flats. After the padding disappeared we discovered it bundled up and stuffed in the alcove under the spiral stairs which led down to the car park. It was dusty and menacing, like something could be inside it. We decided not to hang it back up. We were often joined in the lift by Barbican residents, confused but unconcerned by our strange behaviour, ogling at the blue velveteen-lined spaces between the metal panels. On our fourth trip, a mother and child joined us inside as we fixed part of Mayfly Listening Device to the wall to test its placement. The child pointed to it and said something to his mother in a different language, curious. She shrugged. On our final trip they joined us again but this time we had our cameras. She looked relieved, we were just taking photos. 

Almost as soon as it is attached to the wall Mayfly Listening Device appears to have always belonged to the lift, or a version of it that is yet to exist. Hanging somewhere just outside of our real time, it is an alien extension of the already strange, vacuum-like space. Within this enclosed interior the sculpture takes on the semi-recognisable appearance of a surveillance device, but one which has been altered to the reality of a dubious, technological future where we are listened to rather than watched. The spouting glass appendage which pokes out of the orifice at its base seems to be offering to feed us; the device is not just taking in, but giving out. This clinical, almost medical, suggestion exacerbates the bodily sensation of feeling watched. The plastic chamber with its orange needle-like core threatens to engage with our flesh, its cylindrical chamber recalling the structure of the lift shaft which absorbs and ejects us. This central orange material is a re-used fishing float, designed to recall the clear abdomen of the mayflies which fish prey on. Bodies of insects become entangled with the experience of our own bodies in the lift, a fluidity of scale which is central to the work. A partnering orange float pokes out of the mirror on the perpendicular wall. Speaking to each other across horizontal and vertical axes, the two parts are engaged in their observation together. 

Somehow, this recalls the yellow tripod devices that people in hi-vis jackets hunch over in public space. Google says they are a type of level used to measure the height of a distant point. This lift-bound device could be measuring a similar faraway value, floors above or below in the building. It is tracking, calculating, feeding, capturing; part mouse-trap, part fishing float, the aesthetics of traps are employed in tandem with the language of surveillance. These overlapping signals — trap, surveillance device, measuring tool — emerge from the multiple worlds which Mayfly Listening Device occupies. While the work sits in relation to our reality, Aston-Hetherington’s manipulation of found objects speaks to possible, fictionalised shifts in our lived experience. As the lift moves from floor to floor, the slight deviations in the architecture and lighting compared to the unchanging, replicable space of the lift signal that we could have moved into new versions of our existence. The mirror unsettlingly confirms that we are still occupying the space we first entered, despite the fluctuating sensation of our surroundings. Mayfly Listening Device is a trickster. 

The sculptures that make up many of Aston-Hetherington’s complex installations are laced with mischief.  In Company Between the Slats, sheets of red and black leather are stretched over two sides of a desk, pinned and wrapped around hidden objects beneath. A cracked plastic screen in the middle is pierced with a blue cylinder. It could be a school desk or an interrogation room, just like Mayfly Listening Device it seems that people were using the space and have only just left. In Receptacle, a central glass orb on a table structure is surrounded by clay, plastic figurines, crayons and bungee cords to construct a mysterious, miniature world. Traces of presence, of functionality, flicker around the practice. Aston-Hetherington’s sleight of hand makes sure this knowledge is carefully conveyed, the works whispering to a recent past and simultaneously, multi-directionally to an unknown future. 

Miriam Aston-Hetherington is a multimedia artist and writer who recently graduated from the Slade School of Fine Art. Her work spans sculpture, fiction, research and criticism and is preoccupied with the mediative quality of digital networks and the capacity of communication technologies to generate contemporary thought patterns, modes of play, mischief, conspiracy and secrecy. Her recent practice engages with internet rabbit holes as a form of trans-media storytelling.