As you enter the space, you are confronted by a weathered looking door that looks out of place in the gallery. It doesn’t look like you can go through the door, so you walk to the left instead. There are graph-like colourful prints on the wall in frames to the right. In front of you there’s a big copper satellite/like piece hanging with a cord hanging down from it, which appears to be a sensor on closer inspection. As you walk past it, frequencies sound. Then you follow the space round to the right, and there’s a huge wave like piece made from copper and fabric. It looks like a ribbon suspended in air, or a sound wave. There are also some benches with books on them. As you continue there’s a cabinet of erotica drawings and simple line drawings. There is a central room in front of you, and you enter through a curtain. The room is pink lit, with a thick carpet, cushions on the floor, and little speakers set up in a large circle around the room. There’s a sonic installation playing, each speaker sounding a different voice in a choir. Close to one of the corners is a huge mobile of blown glass, it looks like a circular cascade of colour. Inside is a windchime and a music stand. At the opposite end of the room, piano strings run from a high shelf to the opposite side of the doors that you saw as you entered. As someone opens the doors, the piano strings are strung, creating more live sound.
(Please excuse that I accidentally filmed it portrait, below someone else’s footage)
It was a strange experience, because it felt unnatural and forced. The whole exhibition felt disjointed, like the curator was trying to force different pieces together. Only when I read the information leaflet did I realise that the benches and erotic portraits were part of the exhibition at all – they seemed completely removed from it. The satellite piece that sounds when you walk past is a good idea, but it just didn’t work as I expected. It only sounds if you walk down one side of it, and it’s the same frequency pretty much, there isn’t any variation to sustain your engagement with it. As for the speakers installation, it just felt like a rehashing of things I’ve experienced before that are better executed. It all just felt very naive. The bird beak blown glass mobile etc all felt like it was clutching at straws, trying to make you think a certain way about the work rather than letting you make your own opinion.
My main gripe however was the piano strings piece. I think the idea is brilliant – I’ve worked with exposed piano strings in the past, and their sonic capabilities are amazing. I just felt the way this was executed let it down. The doors looked out of place so you didn’t feel like you could enter through them – only when I saw the invigilator open them did I realise you could. This is that tricky issue of whether or not it’s better to show people like that, or put a sign up to tell people (which draws away from the experience). But I think certain elements could have encouraged you to open it more naturally. If you had to open those doors to enter the gallery, you would have interacted with them. If the doors didn’t look so out of place, they would seem less intimidating.
The writing about the exhibition from the artist is so ‘flowery’, it just makes you cringe:
Let me welcome you as a musician and not as a
spectator. Dancers, singers, readers, builders, sleepers
and dreamers, this is us, constantly busy, willing or
not, to participate in the world. No exhibition or
representation can suspend for a moment the joyful
and inexorable process of becoming.’
What exactly is, ‘the inexorable process of becoming’? It all just feels so forced and overly poetic. I feel like it creates an atmosphere of not allowing you to think for yourself.
MY OWN PRACTICE:
Overall I did enjoy the exhibition, even if I didn’t love it. It allowed me to think critically, and I think it had a lot of interesting ideas that just didn’t get executed well. I think this shows how much my knowledge of sound art has increased – I’m not in a position where I can compare and critique sound art in a wider context.
I want to try and work with exposed strings more after this. I think they have a unique resonance that changes entirely when removed from their conventional instrument, creating an ambiguity that sustains intrigue. I also think my anger over exhibition texts recently could really help with my dissertation. I want to write more about how text in exhibitions can really restrict your experiences of them, and create my own language for talking about them in the process.