The musician—who during her 27-year career has racked up an impressive number of music accolades, including two Mercury Prizes, and was appointed Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2013—is something of an institution in the UK. But despite her fame, she is known to be private and somewhat eccentric, a reputation which sits at odds with such a revealing art project.“Polly is a tremendously open collaborator, who knows very much what she wants; she has very clear ideas and is very thoughtful,” Artangel’s Morris told artnet News. At Somerset House, Reekie chimed in: “Polly has this extraordinarily singular vision for Recording in Progress which, I must stress, is absolutely her own,” he told artnet News. “It is an idea that she brought to us, and it was very fully formed. There’s nothing better than working with an artist that has a strong vision for something. Even if it is really demanding!”

From this Friday until February 14, British singer-songwriter PJ Harvey and her collaborators will record a new album during a series of sessions open to the public, which will take place inside a custom-made, site specific architectural installation at London’s Somerset House.This is no institutional gimmick. Recording in Progress, which is organized in collaboration with the visual arts commissioning agency Artangel, was initiated by Harvey herself.“Polly came to us with the instinct that it would be interesting to exhibit the process of recording an album,” Michael Morris, co-director of Artangel, told artnet News. “We explored a number of different ideas, locations, and contexts. And in the end she chose this rather extraordinary space, where we have created a site-specific studio environment.”

The space, a former staff gymnasium and rifle range, is located in Somerset House’s New Wing, an area of the splendid Neoclassical building that has never been open to the public before. “There is something quite uncharted about it, which interested us,” Morris explained. “And its scale was exactly right.”A maximum of 35 people will be allowed in at the same time, which will make for a rather intimate experience. But despite its experimental nature, the project is not a participatory one. Harvey and her musicians will work behind a glass divider, a device necessary to ensure the acoustic requirements necessary to record what will subsequently become her ninth album in the best conditions.

Not a Participatory Project