Ever since sound escaped from the confinements of music, it has informed a nexus in which artists from different backgrounds and disciplines can explore its time-bound and ephemeral possibilities. Practitioners from painting, kinetic art, the natural sciences, textile design, fashion, literature, theatre, sculpture and electroacoustic music now include sound into their hybrid artistic works.
The artists assembled for this exhibition exemplify this diversity, offering works that showcase a wide spectrum of skills, ideas and approaches, conjoined by a common interest in sound. Explorations that range from pre-recorded compositions, hacked noise, amplified friction and electromagnetic noises to sounds palpably implied.
In Hanna Hartman’s Early Warning three differently coloured disks hover closely above the ground. Bubbling streams of sound, whose source remains unseen, emerge from their highly polished surfaces. Looking from above, or sitting on the sounding disks, two very different experiences of the work may be gleaned, one audio-visual, the other audio-tactile. The work’s allusive title, in tandem with an enigmatic photograph displayed nearby, inspires poetic associations, while the flow of sounds binds the disparate parts together.
Edith Kollath’s animated antique books display a complete absence of audible sound, yet their slow cycles of opening and closing suggest the simple and familiar cadence of quiet breathing. As with her second piece in the show, Draft of Air, the locus of sound in Thinking that I’d last forever is projected into the imagination of the beholder. Kollath creates what Susan Sontag called a ‘full void’1 – an eloquent silence that reverberates in the imagination of the encounterer. Each book embodies its own gentle rhythm, poetically suggesting the history held within, while the lifting and lowering of each suspended page conveys an audible presence.
By contrast, the sound in Tamaki Watanabe and Walter Zurborg’s Sophist’s humming is clearly audible, and its source is in plain sight: two golf balls rolling along the roughly carpentered tracks of a kinetic long-string construction. Drawn by gravity, the balls engender vibrant drones in the single metal strings stretched alongside them before striking the terminus with a sonorous thump. Joined together, the two seesaws engage in an ever-shifting harmonic discourse of pitched drones and percussive accents.
In Chelsea Leventhal’s work Home, two old Tesla telephones ring out into the space. Their sharp apparatic sounds, hacked by the artist into complex stutters, still communicate their original purpose. If one surrenders to their sonic stare and takes the call, the conversational debris received escapes all literal sense. Sonic distortions developed from the VOIP app “Skype” meld with subliminal Morse-code references in the overall composition, which evokes a muted mix of contemporary and past communication and nostalgia.
And finally, there is Cecilia Jonsson’s allegorical evocation of Alice in Wonderland’s Red Queen, conceived as a giant red sphere that measures high speed in slow motion. Powered by a rotating electromagnetic field, the queen makes her way – haltingly and as if by magic – around her silver realm; in her silent passage, all that can be heard are the faint sounds produced by the periodic shifts in the power field that drives her procession: faint high-pitched noises, punctuated by knockings and high pings. Mementos of Nicola Tesla’s ingenuity, these sounds and motions create a wondrous bridge between electrophysics and Lewis Carroll’s magical wonderland.
In all of these very different works – made of diverse materials, driven by different mechanisms and exploring a variety of conceptual ideas – sound is critical. The variety exemplifies the nexus quality essential to SoundArt, and throws into stark relief the hybrid network structure endemic to current artistic practice.