I'm currently organizing an exhibition about the history of video art in California, opening at the J. Paul Getty Museum in March of 2008. With 58 artists and a mix of single-channel video and installations, sound has obviously been a major obstacle. Many of our galleries have 22-foot ceilings, and California building/earthquake safety codes requires walls going to that height to be 3-feet thick, so small rooms have not been an option without creating something that feels like a fortress maze.
We're exhibiting most single-channel videos on monitors. Each monitor will play sound at a relatively low volume, and it will also have headphones for viewers who want to be more immersed. We've integrated audio with our seating, so that each seat is adjacent to a post that has two headphone (with volume control) as well as two jacks allowing viewers to bring their own headphones to the exhibition and plug in. Label and didactic information are also located on this post, so viewers do not need to walk up to each monitor to find it.
For this exhibition, sound has often dictated my choice of works, and their groupings. For instance, one gallery contains performance works primarily containing ambient sound (grunts and thuds), and works in this area are able to be exhibited much more closely together than elsewhere, and the mix of sounds somewhat amplifies the impact of the works. However, this also excluded performative works involving speech, which are now located in "nooks" divided off by large hanging pieces of felt, allowing viewers to isolate themselves a little more.
For room-sized installations, we are often embedding multiple (6 or more) speakers at ear height around the room, which allows the overall volume level to be kept lower. For an enormous gallery filled with multiple projections and installations, I only chose works that were silent or with ambient sound.
We are also creating a "Video Study Room," which contains of all the single-channel works on view elsewhere in the exhibition, which gives visitors an alternate way to view the works. They can sit down at touchscreen kiosks, put on headphones, and call up any work in the show on demand, and in isolation.
I've found it most helpful to, when possible, get a bunch of monitors and mock-up the individual galleries so that I can judge how the sounds mix ahead of time. This has definitely led to works being moved around and/or substituted. I also think it is very important to make sure that artists know from the beginning if their piece will need to be at a lower volume, or if there will be a lot of sound bleed in their gallery, so that they have proper expectations. Artists often propose good solutions to these problems, and their tolerance for aural interference really varies from piece to piece. Sometimes it proved better to substitute another piece that the artist and I felt could handle the interference.
I won't know how these approaches pan out until the show goes up, but beyond this I've been trying to have an attitude of embracing the cacophony and presenting it as an aspect of the show from the beginning.
Glenn R. Phillips
Senior Project Specialist and Consulting Curator
Department of Contemporary Programs and Research
Getty Research Institute
1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
Los Angeles, CA 90049-1688
>>> Bruce Wands <[log in to unmask]> 09/20/07 8:48 AM >>>
Our best results with the NY Digital Salon happened in venues with several small rooms, like the
Circulo de Bellas Artes in Madrid. We'd use the room for a single installation or interactive work. This
allows the work to stand on its own, without visual or aural interference. It also limits the acoustical
problems that arise from sound bleeding into other aras of the venue. I have found that sound is one
of the major problems when dealing with new media installations. In venues that had large gallery
spaces, we would often build small rooms or install temporary walls to provide a division between
the works. In some cases, we opted for headhones instead of speakers. Another issue is the choice of
using a monitor, LCD panel or projector. Many times, the ambient light in a room is not conducive for
a piece that uses projection.