Salamanda Tandem: how the name arrived
Bonnington Gallery 1990: our company of 50/50 blind, visually impaired and sighted people
In 1988 a few months before the idea of salamanda tandem came about we arrived at Mount St Helens; located in Washington in the Pacific Northwest region of America. 8 years earlier this volcanic mountain had erupted, transforming millions of acres of beautiful forest into a virtual desert. Charred trunks ran on for as far as the eye could see; like the kind of black stubble on an unshaven chin. The place was deathly quiet. We’d been camping wild for 2 months or so along the west coast and I’d become used to hearing birds and insects all around. Nothing here, but the sound of ones own breath, and a few tourists scattered in the car park. I’d arrived with a fare amount of noise going on in my head; a narrow escape from drowning in the deep waters at Big Sur, an unhappy travel companion and exhausted from 4 years of full time music making in a special school for children on the autistic spectrum. I felt a desire to put things right and a fear of being alone in this burnt and hostile landscape. Thus, wandering off the path into the wilderness it was a relief when we came across a pond and a small amount of greenery. At first the water looked still and then a movement flickered in the shallow waters below. A sign nearby suggested we took care – salamander’s were breading -these newt like creatures were the first living things visible in the place after all forms of life had been destroyed following the volcanic eruption.
The salamander has a remarkable ability; it is capable of regenerating the loss of parts of its body through a process that involves simplifying the cells at the amputation site in order to re grow. This process is called de-differentiation – a process by which re-growth can happen, like seen in a worm when a spade accidentally cuts through it when we dig our soil.
Captivated by this idea of regeneration and survival through a kind of distillation, the first half of the name salamanda (tandem) arrived. On returning home we were loaned a ‘tandem ‘bicycle by the local blind institute, as my father had dreamt of a fast journey down hill where an equal partnership of two could generate the necessary momentum for him to feel the wind in his ears. Lewis and Isabel’s early work were the inspiration for Salamanda Tandem which was initially formed as a partnership with Peter Byworth, on February 14th 1989. Peter left the company after 3 years in February 1992, but Lewis continued working and collaborating with Isabel and many other artists till his death 20 years later on September 3rd 2012.
Lewis Jones in Sound Round Robin 1991
After a 25 year old journey of navigation through uncharted territory – I have come to understand that in the name ‘salamanda tandem’ are symbols of ingenuity, survival, resistance, regeneration, equality, and momentum, found through drilling down to a few essential properties that support growth and change to happen.
These are some of the qualities I believe are essential for all our survival!