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Subject:

Re: Sound Art: March Theme of the Month

From:

Sarah Cook <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Curating digital art - www.newmedia.sunderland.ac.uk/crumb/

Date:

Wed, 13 Mar 2002 00:01:05 +0000

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (82 lines)

Kathleen and others,

I did see Frequencies, the exhibition of sound art currently on view at
the Kunsthalle Schirn in Frankfurt. However, I feel thoroughly
unqualified to write a review of it, which is why I am looking forward
to this month's discussions. I saw Sonic Boom at the Hayward Gallery
here in England two years ago and that exhibition is my only point of
reference regarding contemporary sound installations grouped by media
rather than by content or theme. Through my travels to media art
festivals I have attended many new media music/sound/vj performances,
but feel that the time-based element of those experiences means
comparison to sound art installations in exhibition spaces is not
productive. (Is such a distinction useful to developing aesthetic
criteria or not?) My initial thoughts on Frequencies are below, but I'd
love to hear more experienced curators/participants speak to their
knowledge of sound art in mixed-media shows, perhaps the successful yet
ghettoised installation in BitStreams (Whitney, 2001), or the inclusion
of sound works (such as Douglas Gordon's) in theme shows, such as Let's
Entertain (Walker Art Center, 2000).

----

Regardless of what it sounds like, Frequencies, the exhibition of sound
art currently on view at the Kunsthalle Schirn in Frankfurt looks
beautiful. The Hayward's clompy architecture aside, the installation
design of Frequencies put the similar exhibition seen here in London two
years ago - Sonic Boom - to shame. White foam sound insulation squares
cover the walls - the names of the artists, titles of the works and
short descriptions are engraved into the top two like roman stone
carving. In the long thin white cube space each work had its own room
off a spacious corridor. In the catalogue the installation designers
explain they were working from the idea of stretching a frequency - a
sound wave - out in space. it works. only rarely can you hear another
piece interfering with the one you are looking at/listening to. the show
is airy and brightly lit, it feels at times ethereal.

The selection of works vears towards the visceral - very high
frequencies, very low deep frequencies (both make you worry you are
doing damage to yourself) accompanied in some cases by strobe lights
(the amazing and deeply unsettling Nauman-esque narrow corridor by Roy
Ikeda) in other cases electricity (Tommi Gronlund and Petteri Nisunen's
facing concave mirror installation). All of the pieces are of course, as
they struggle to be visual, in some way overarchingly conceptual (case
in point Mika Vainio's three out-of-synch clocks on the wall look like a
Feliz Gonzales Torres threesome; they are wired with microphones to
amplify the sound of the minute hand moving).

Some works of note: the three installations outside the museum and the
three designed for the museum's particular architecture (a round
windowed space and the stairwell you mount to get to the exhibition
galleries) are very good (Carsten Nicolai's is recognisable as his work
before you even get into it - I love that he is so talented that even
his completely minimalist sound pieces have developed into an evolving
trademark style). The weakest work in the show in my opinion is Daniel
Pflumm's video shown on a monitor embedded in the wall showing
advertisements for products with all text, logos and name brands removed
soundtracked by unrelenting techno music - next to all the other
installations/sculptures, it feels completely out of place and doesn't
hold it's own conceptually. One piece, that of Carl Michael von
Hausswolff is nicely new-media in that it reinterprets the frequencies
from the museum's own electrical systems (presumably the buzz of the
lights and the hum of the air circulation unit) amplifies them, puts
them through an oscilloscope, and then records the image appearing on
the oscilloscope and projects it back in real time onto the gallery wall.

I would have liked to have seen/heard more works involving the acoustics
of recognisable spaces or of found /collaged sounds (only two pieces
were overtly narrative: Knut Asdam's piece consisting of a darkened
space defined by blackout curtains, which upon entering you sit on a
bench and staring out the window listen to a story told by two different
women and Ultra-Red's video diptych of images from the USA-Mexico border
visible from both inside and outside the building, while the soundtrack
- taken from the Quebec City Summit riots - could only be heard
outside). Where were the Christian Marclay's, the Janet Cardiff's? I
asked myself. Then I realised that they weren't there because in fact
the show was very tightly curated around the theme of the "frequency"
and not around the theme of sound art (which is what distinguishes it
from Sonic Boom most dramatically). And in that, the show seems to be
very successful.

-Sarah

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