I went to a concert celebrating Nordic music at the Southbank centre, and it was quite something: Sibelius’ 6th and 7th Symphonies and a new violin concerto written by Daníel Bjarnason for Pekka Kuusisto. I’m a big fan of Pekka Kuusisto not only in his fluid performance style (it’s as if he’s composing the piece himself when he performs) but in his philosophy about music and passion for folk.
The Bjarnason violin concerto was amazing – I’d never heard a violin sound like that before. The instrument was reinterpreted and pushed to it’s limits. Afterwards I learnt that the lowest string (G) had been lowered to a D, a 4th lower. One change like that alters the entire resonance of the violin and how the notes interact with eachother. The piece also featured whistling where Pekka or the violin section would whistle the melody whilst also playing it pizzicato. This simultaneous playing of the melody blurred the lines between the body and the violin, both in the quality of sound and the act of performing.
Afterwards Pekka was joined by Ilona Korhonen for a contemporary Runo folk session.
Again, Pekka used the violin in a completely innovative way, this time combining it with electronics. The variety of effects and sounds he produced to enhance Ilona’s storytelling was fascinating. The whole concert felt like it lifted the restrictions on music – being classically trained, you feel like you have to use the violin in the way you’re taught, that there’s a right and wrong way to perform, to interpret a piece. Pekka speaks about looking past standardised interpretations of pieces and I think that translates into how we use instruments themselves. By bringing the violin, for example, back to it’s rawest components and re-imagining how it can be used, can a greater understanding of it be gained?
To get us thinking about the different ways you can interpret an artwork, we did a series of workshops in the first week. We all had to bring in a printed copy of an artwork and then swap it with someone else. I ended up with Cara’s Lucian Freud portrait, ‘Reflection (Self Portrait.)
We then had to make a quick drawing, sculpture, performance, photograph and painting of the given piece. I found this really frustrating – I haven’t touched portraiture since A levels, or painting for that matter. I treated the tasks more as performances in themselves – I focused on recreating the gestures etc and was less interested in the product or it’s visual resemblance.
Being in a situation where I had to think in a figurative, visual way was a real challenge. My outcomes aren’t amazing at all and I didn’t get much out of it – this isn’t a valuable method for me. It did reinforce in my mind where my interests lie however, and I know not to dally in things that I’m not passionate about like I did last year. (I felt like I spent the year trying things out that I didn’t enjoy at all and didn’t make much work I was proud of as a result.)
I didn’t complete the rest of the tasks as I went to London and then Venice, but they were incredibly useful and inspirational experiences so I think it was worthwhile missing out on this.
‘At the outset of this brief you must identify an image, artefact or object (it must be a work of art) from a museum, gallery or private collection.
Once you have chosen an artefact, it will provide the starting point for a body of work that you will make in response to it. It is important that you understand we are not looking for you to make a slavish copy of your chosen artefact, but instead we want you to take an innovative and experimental line of investigation that emerges from this image / object. It may be interesting to select from outside of your discipline area. A painting may provide inspiration for a filmmaker / photographer, a tapestry may arouse the interest of a sculptor, a ceramic vase may be the motivation for a printmaker, a wooden chair may stimulate a project for a painter etc. Initially spend time with your artefact; draw it,think about it, get to know it – dig deep. Then begin your creative journey which can be inspired by either physical or conceptual features of your object / image, its meaning, function, cultural value, narrative and importantly its context should all be taken into consideration. We expect you to make a tangential and thorough exploration through drawing, documenting, writing and making that culminates in a body of work in your chosen media. This process of development will be recorded within your Timeline and should be built upon as your work themes become self-directed. Reference in your final artwork(s) to the original artefact may be minimal, however the subject must be thoroughly researched, investigated and reflected upon.’
2nd year has arrived with a bang – a lot to be getting on with. We have our main project to make work in response to a particular artwork we’ve visited in real life, two field projects, and an exhibition to organise for the 2nd term. I’m also still making work for Wales in Venice, so will try to combine that with my studio practice.
I don’t usually revisit exhibitions more than twice, but Runa Islam’s piece, ‘Stare Out (Blink)’ kept calling me back to it.
It was tucked away in a confined room in my local gallery; an odd contrast to the rest of the exhibition focused on Light. A wall of sound generated from the previous piece’s four slide projectors guarded the entrance, isolating Islam’s piece from the rest of the gallery. As I walked through my eyes were immediately focused on the sole point of light – an A5 sheet illuminated by a 16mm film projector behind.
I find analogue technology far more grounded than digital. The mechanisms themselves are very physically present which in turn grounds the records they show in reality. In contrast the projector floats on a clear perspex stand. It feels grounded yet possesses the illusion of weightlessness.
The suspended sheet holds the negative image of a woman’s face. She passively stares at you for seven seconds before a second of darkness snatched her away. Yet she remains. Her negative image is still ingrained in your retina, her face a lingering presence painted by your eyes upon the dark sheet.
It’s an odd sensation. I experienced a tangible connection with a stranger, their presence solidified by the heavy technology. It was the kind of connection you never have – uninhibited eye contact without any knowledge of the subject: nothing to judge them by, and no fear of being judged yourself. The strongest form of human contact without touch, impacting upon the viewer as a real person.
I didn’t expect to see her positive image at first. I felt vulnerable, like I’d been caught. Yet she also seemed vulnerable from being revealed. I soon couldn’t decide which was the true image: the physically projected negative, or the lingering presence imprinted on my retina.
It was refreshing. People need human communication, though with the sheer volume and variety of methods we can use now, face to face contact is often lacking. To sit and stare at this stranger was to both understand and be understood. I mostly experience art as separate from myself or as a sensory exploration. Maybe that’s why I kept coming back. I felt connected to this piece far more inwardly than I would have consciously consented to, though I am grateful for it. It was like art therapy.
Harry Partch was an American composer and artist living in 20th century America. He is best known for creating his own instruments, mainly from found objects.
Partch questioned the constraints of music. He thought classical music was a white European tradition and had no place in society anymore. Why should music be restricted to 8 tones 12 semitones? Partch created music free of tradition, making one instrument that had 43 keys between one octave. He wanted to make people reconnect with more experimental sound, and thus to reconnect with their pure human nature.
This has been an argument I’ve had many times with artists and musicians alike. Have we been trained to find ‘conventional’music pleasant? Or is there something inherently enjoyable in certain frequencies? I believe it’s a combination of both: if we had been raised on atonal music, listened to Schoenberg as children etc, I think we would be more accustomed to it and probably even enjoy it. Four years ago I couldn’t stand sonic art or atonal music – I thought it was a degression of music and was torturous to listen to. As I have grown older, wiser, and more knowledgable of this field I have found a love for the things I rejected at first, amd I wholeheartedly believe that’s because I got used to it. Partch’s work is often described as this: at first it is unbearable but after 10 minutes you get used to it.
I want to experiement with making my own instruments, not trying to tune them to perfect pitch, but to embrace the raw sounds of them.
My final piece for the year is my sand-casted aluminium sculpture. I don’t have two unfortunately, but the last minute venice arrangements left me with no time to make it.
I was influenced by Camille Norment and the way she explores the relationship between a material and sound; also linking to my constellation practice into the rejection of ocularcentricism in favour of using our full sensorium. I wanted to create a piece where it’s physical presence was equal to it’s sonic one.
The idea to create an instrument was inspired by Harry Partch. On my art foundation I would make my own instruments from found objects, so revisiting Partch’s work and my own proved very helpful.
I have a collection of found objects I wanted to make into instruments, but due to the time restriction they shall have to wait until next year. I did manage to cast one however:
I really enjoyed the whole casting process and I shall definitely work with it more next year. I think the sonic capabilities of alumium are hugely varied, and this will be moreso with bronze if I learn to cast that as well.
I think the object itself is a good size – it sits in the palm of your hand well. The polystyrene finish is both a positive and a negative. It looks messy and irregular, but this gives it a wider variety of sounds.
For my other final piece I wanted to create a sound installation from the recordings of the instrument. Over the summer I will do this and maybe create a piece for it.
None of my subject work relates to ‘inside out’, but I only started to make work I enjoyed and felt inspired by once I abandoned the theme. After fmp on foundation I find it very difficult to stick to briefs. It felt like if I related it to inside out it would be a cop out and ruin the concept and effect, so I went my own way.