In conjunction with Opera North’s epic presentation of Wagner’s complete Ring cycle, a new sound and film installation by artist Emma Critchley comes to Leeds Central Library from Monday 16 to Thursday 26 May.

Commissioned by Opera North Projects, The water sinks down with them is an immersive installation that holds the evolution of human consciousness within the walls of a specially-designed room in the Library’s new art space, Room 700.

Emma Critchley takes her inspiration from the opening bars of Wagner’s 16-hour epic, beginning where the composer began with the primeval energy of the River Rhine:

The fact that the Ring starts and ends in water is central to my response with this work. It’s an exploration of this Wagnerian idea of a pre-existing cosmos in which human consciousness takes form. The water is primordial and evokes an expansive sense of time, before and after our own existence. Through the film a timeless, ever-changing space unfolds that seems at times colossal, at others microscopic.

Sound designer Nicolas Becker, who has worked with filmmakers including Roman Polanski and David Cronenberg, and received his second Golden Reel award for his work on Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, has been collaborating with the artist. A recording of Opera North’s Rhinemaidens – the first and the last characters seen in the four-opera cycle – will form part of the soundscape. “It’s inspired by the opening bars of Das Rheingold that evolve into the first sung word, which is Wagner’s metaphor for the evolution of consciousness” says Critchley

The artist, a qualified commercial diver whose fascination with the submarine world can be seen throughout her work in photography and film, admits that she is a newcomer to the music of Wagner:

It’s been a steep learning curve – I spent Christmas getting to grips with recordings of the cycle and the libretto translations, and reading around the myths and the philosophy that fed into Wagner’s work.

She cites Ludwig Feuerbach, the German philosopher and contemporary of Wagner, as an influence on the new installation. Feuerbach’s belief in the supremacy of nature, which ‘has no beginning and no end’ and ‘is at once effects and cause, acting and reacting on all sides’, was taken up passionately by Wagner as he wrote the Ring, and in an early draft the cycle concludes with the so-called ‘Feuerbach ending’.

The water sinks down with them is part of an extensive programme of special events and commissions, including talks, film screenings, live broadcasts and family workshops, in celebration of Opera North’s performance of six complete cycles of the Ring in cities across the country this summer.

The water sinks down with them opens in Room 700, Leeds Central Library, from Monday 16 toThursday 26 May. Emma Critchley will give an informal artist’s talk in the exhibition space onTuesday 17 May from 5.30pm to 6.30pm. Admission is free and no booking is necessary, but space is limited so early arrival is recommended.

The installation will accompany Opera North’s Ring cycle on tour to The Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London (Friday 24 June to Sunday 3 July) and the BALTIC Centre, in association with Sage Gateshead, from Friday 8 to Sunday 10 July. Admission at all venues is free, with no booking required.

Video installation by James Islip at Lumen, projection equipment supplied by Lumen.