What does art sound like? How is listening different from looking? These are some of the questions posed by the Dunedin Public Art Gallery’s Sound Full, currently on at City Gallery Wellington. The exhibition brings together 16 artists from Australasia; for me, there were many new names on the list. A number of ideas run through the exhibition –sound and silence as media, what art sounds like, and the visualisation of sound. These ideas are thought through in paintings, digital images, recordings, compositions, associations and sculpture.
Viewing the work, I was reminded how good contemporary art makes us consider things with fresh eyes. This exhibition highlights the aesthetics of sound, which is to say the aesthetics of the equipment used to play, record and amplify sound. Dials, CD discs, microphones, speakers, switches and the like feature in many of the works. Some artists reinvent this aesthetic. Australian artist Vicky Browne, for example, re-creates a microphone and speaker that allow the viewer to speak to the plants in her installation. The equipment is ‘woven’ from twigs, as if in some magical synergy with the plant life.
Wellingtonians Eugene Hansen and Jenny Gilliam, and their New York collaborator Dr Kron, present a work about the hysteria of bird flu. A series of bird alarm clocks covers the walls, timed to go off at 12pm for an hour each day. Vinyl signage floats behind the clocks like rows of Pac-Men spoofing the imagery of health warnings, and about to ‘eat’ each other up.
No sound exhibition is complete without Aucklander and veteran sound experimentalist Phil Dadson. His Rock Records (12rpm, White Island) visualises and imagines a historic and catastrophic sonic event with stone impressions, spectrophotometer charts and sound.
Sound Full also tries to imagine an aesthetic for sound, and unsurprisingly this, is in the most part, abstraction. Volta and images from the Proof of Concept series by Australian Robin Fox map sound with a music creation application called MAX/MSP. The resulting photographic and video images are like wild floral fireworks. Australians Joyce Hinterding and David Haines bring gaming engines into the gallery. In a Wii games-style experience, the viewer drives through lattices and weird landscapes but without the combative or competitive aspects of a game. The only ‘levels’ are the portals and sound fields you can pop in and out of.
And for something completely different, there are the two performance-based works – Volition Bus by Sydney-based Kusum Normoyle, and Window by Thembi Soddell from Melbourne. Normoyle literally screams at the gallery in her investigation of noise activities in nature and in public spaces. And boy, I know the feeling. Soddell, in contrast, asks the viewer to climb into a ‘sound box’ in complete blackness but surrounded by audio. Without light, I found myself listening more intently. The creaking of my joints and the sound of my breathing joined the audio as part of a bodily experience of sound.
Sound Full opens at City Gallery Wellington on 19 October and runs until 9 February 2014.[info]
November Art Recommendations
Put Pataka Art + Museum on your visiting list this month. There’s an interesting mix of exhibitions on offer. Whakawhiti Aria: Transmission includes Israel Birch, Shane Cotton and Bob Jahnke in a project of exchange with one another. Miranda Parkes’ Shebang features work developed while she was artist in residence at the Tylee Cottage in Whanganui. Elizabeth Thomson presents her Kermadecs work in Transitive States. And Terry Stringer’s Face/Space includes furniture and sculpture.[/info]
About Mary-Jane Duffy
Mary-jane is a Paekakariki-based poet and essayist, and FishHead’s art columnist. She teaches poetry and academic writing on the Whiyireia Creative Writing programme, torturing students with half-rythmes and pantoums, zombie haiku, and line breaks, referencing and structure. Duffy has a background in museum and gallery work, making a lucky escape from the basement of the City Gallery Wellington in 2002 and opening the Mary Newtown Gallery with Paula Newtown in 2004. Art (across all the disciplines) feels like the closest thing she has to religious experiences — seeing, reading or hearing things that make her brain fizz.
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