Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Frequencies: Audio Visual work by Anthony Kelly and David Stalling

'Frequencies' is a collection of recent audio visual works by Dublin based Anthony Kelly and David Stalling. Their work encompass a shared practice of recycling 'objets trouveés' of sound, visual and text material as part of their ongoing collaborative projects. The results are collages of everyday noise and original music snippets taken from accumulated field recordings and old personal cassette tapes. This juxtaposition of contrasting material results in a series of audio/visual 'musique concrète' pieces.

This is a short text I wrote for the booklet accompanying the show at the Basement Gallery, Dundalk, Ireland in March of this year.

Like crystal, like metal and many other substances, I am a sonorous being, but I hear my own vibration from within; as Malraux said, I hear myself with my throat.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible

You are in a room.

It is filled with sound. Just one uniform tone it seems, unchanging, but when you move, a discordancy in the otherwise smooth ‘hhmmmm...’ is noticed. You stop. The smoothness, the unending unchanging progress of the tone re-establishes itself.

You move again. Walk around, perhaps turn your head this way, then that or bend over to pick up a piece of paper. And the tone goes on, but all the time you notice how it swoons with your every movement, registering each little fluctuation, spiking with a sharp upturn to the left, wavering with any lean downward.

Sound surrounds you, noise surrounds you, even music possibly, though possibly not. (How does one decide?)

Listen. There are two frequencies. These are not identical but while the listener is still they create one solid, unchanging tone. Move however and the sound alters, shifting and depending on the position of the body. Each is a wavelength of specific frequency, a sound wave of regular, rhythmic upturn and downturn through space. These peaks and troughs surround you, collide with you, resonate throughout you.

The variability of the sound is a result of the fact that the peaks and troughs of one frequency combine with those of the other frequency in differing configurations at each point of the room, at any one point in time. Your movement through this field of sound waves opens you up with each slight shift to an altered configuration of the two frequencies.

At any one point in time. Spatial and temporal. Now. Now. In a room.

In this manner the listener plays an active role in the constitution of what he or she hears. Of what you hear. Sound is not an objective element, despite all the scientific determinations we may give it. The distinction between you and the world, subject and object no longer holds. Like an electric bass guitar not plugged in, whose only sound is that of plunking strings, but yet emits the deepest richest tones when played resting against an empty wardrobe, sound is a perfect unity between you and the world, those apparently separate poles.

((Have you ever listened to yourself? Your voice in your throat. The joints clicking. The low level hum at 4.33am - a silence that is no silence))

The act of listening then is no simple observation of what is given to your ears. What you hear is your very existence - life, negotiations, a movement through a world. Not only do you hear sound but you feel it, in the pit of your stomach, the back of your neck - your throat. Frequencies are only through you.

And who or what, might we ask, are you? ...‘at any one point in time’... You are that point. The needle on the grammophone. A sonorous being, you are Dasein, Being-there, being-in-the-world.

Frequencies, sound waves, ways of speaking. Ways of expressing the point, the fact that you are here.

You are in a room.

Notes: This text draws on Matrix [for rooms] by Ryoji Ikeda, Touch Music, TO:44, 2001 for its inspiration.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Mark Hansel at Jack The Pelican: Sept 7-Oct 7

On the other hand..
'Youth is Wasted', a show by Mark Hansel at Jack the Pelican is a waste of time. Poorly executed with vacuous subject matter, this show encapsulates a lot of things I don't like about the current art scene. There are artists that deal with youth well - Ryan McGinley for one in his depiction of transient moments and aspects of youth that slip beyond our grasp. But here Hansel merely offers bland idealized stereotypes that smack more of the extended childhoods of Williamsburg 20 somethings (and 30 somethings for that matter) than any real celebration or evocation of youth.

Jim Torok at Pierogi Gallery, Sept. 7-Oct. 8

This is a surprising show. Reading the press release I was very sceptical: "Jim Torok is schizophrenic, completely insane, and loves his mother. His one saving grace is his keen sense of humor. Torok is known for two bodies of work—both based on acute observation, but that is just the beginning. In one, he makes cartoon-style storyboard drawings that range from self-doubt to political correctness. These narratives are simultaneously hilarious and sobering, innocently optimistic and cynical. The other consists of his small, skillfully rendered portraits. This exhibition of new work will bring together both sides of Torok’s split personality".

I mean, I don't want to sound P.C. but I thought we had gotten over equating schizophrenia with split personality disorder a decade back or so. Also, I am suspicious of art that needs mental illness to justify it. Too often it is just a cynical attempt to either cash in on the buzz around outsider art or to pass off lousy work as interesting. Or both.

However Torok's work is both impressive and utterly charming. His cartoon strips are affecting in their simplicity. Reminiscent of Harvey Pekar in their resolute everydayness they are distinguished by the ability to bring a tighter focus to the minutae of life than Pekar. Those works that deal with the artist's uncertainty about global issues are tales familiar to many of us but I preferred the works that deal most directly with the artists life. The narrative arcs of these stories are often slight - e.g The artist goes to see a band. The end - but are all the more effective for that. To this end they often have the paradoxical result of almost producing a still-life - a small detail frozen and preserved.

This idea serves as the connection between Torok's cartoon work and his really quite superb portrait work on view in the back room. For these portraits too almost become still-life. The small dimensions and mainly black and white rendering immediately brings to mind Victorian death jewelry and lockets containing photos of the deceased. This is primarily an effect of the size of portraits and their relation to the white paper around them. They seem to freeze their subjects in a strange manner that isolates them and reduces to a memento or keepsake.

It is obvious by the careful rendering and the relaxed easy poses that most of the subjects are close to the artist (including himself, the closest of them all!). In this light it is interesting therefore that by transforming them into art, Torok's work also render them lifeless. The effect is becomes even more apparent when the miniature black and white portraits are contrasted with the larger color portraits which, though they recall both Chuck Close and Thomas Ruff's portraits, work according to a more traditional logic of portraiture.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Fragments of Europe: Neo Rauch at the Met

The Neo Rauch show currently at the Met is a strange beast. Not least because the Museum has chosen to cram about 10 paintings, all reasonably large-scale into a very small mezzanine gallery. The low ceilings and tight hanging of the canvases may perhaps add to the atmosphere of oppression and foreboding that many of the works produce, but it also serves to undermine the monumental character that not a few of the paintings suggest.

The term monumental here refers not to a judgment of the worth of the work but rather indicates the manner in which the paintings reference (amongst many other things) social realist art and its attempts to elevate the proletariat to the highest levels, or at least maintain the illusion of its elevation. Die Flamme is a good case in point here. At first glance the subject has the determined gait of the archetypal good worker making his way to the factory on time. Flags held in both hands suggest patriotism and loyalty, while the featureless face makes of him an Everyman. One thus imagines the paintings suspended high on the museum wall, with little distraction around it, demanding our awe and submission.

Such a mode of display would throw into even greater relief the ambiguities and fractures at the heart of the work for these in my view are what is at stake. If we are to take Rauch at his word, then his paintings do not express single, coherent meanings. Much of their content, so he says, consists of dream imagery. On the individual canvases the images are not made to integrate but rather blur at the edges, shading into each other as if the paintings were collages with the hard edges painted over.

As such they bring to mind the work of another German, the writer W.G Sebald, whose books concerned themselves with a similar inability to integrate memory and history, to make the fragments of the past cohere into a life. Both artists use what we might call a method of alignment to create echo and reverberation within and between the works. In this way the fragments of history can start to indicate what has been left out by outlining aporias, the shapes of what is missing.Think too of the name of the show 'Para' which suggests many words (paraphrase, paradox) without necessarily reconciling them.

Of course this attempt brings with it the question of the author's/artist's position within such a history. This is why painting and the artist are so often referenced in the works on show here.In both Jagdzimmer (right) and Paranoia there are paintings in the background. In Vater a man holds a camera, that points not at the man-child in the fathers arms but at the smoky indeterminate space between light (candle) and man (father).
Most significantly, in die Flamme the figure is astride over a trough containing paint tins, while the planks of wood lashed to his legs make an absurdity of any manoeuvre.

Thus the painter's dilemma is that of the European of late Modernity. It is the question of how to reconcile Europe's highest achievements and aspirations with its worst excesses and degradations. Monarchy and socialism, tradition and innovation, urbanism and pastoralism, classicism and modernism. Can one respond or is it a sisyphean task? We shall see. In the face of uncertainty, conservativism is always a temptation and Rauch has indeed described himself as conservative. But one can also cast light on the uncertainty of where we stand in history in the hope of least appreciating, if not understanding it as Rauch also seems to do. Rauch is ambiguous about his position, but then again, such ambigiuity is wholly in keeping with the dilemma.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Cive Murphy - Scapes - Magnan Projects

This is a short piece written for Murphy's first solo exhibition in New York. It contains elements of a longer essay which can be found on an earlier post.

Clive Murphy - Scapes

The work of Clive Murphy concerns itself with both site and surface - not only the position of the individual within an increasingly ‘mass’ oriented environment but also the contours, the landscapes through which this environing is revealed. Exploring themes of hierarchy, inter-relationality and meaning formation, he infiltrates sites of visual signification with a combination of pathos and incongruity, reconstituting ideological, cultural and rhetorical systems in an effort to situate anew a sense of human space.

Murphy’s practice draws from the peripheries of visual culture, mining such diverse sources as porn spam, folk art, found audio cassette tape, technical drawings and fairground inflatables. He appropriates and reconfigures familiar signifiers in order to explore their wider cultural resonance, uncovering new ground for the proliferation of diverse meanings.

His methodology centers around the expansion and abstraction of the concept or genre of ‘landscape’ as it relates to environment in a cultural and semiological sense. And while the conscious embrace of low culture displays a debt to Pop Art it also points beyond this by illustrating relationships between Pop Art and landscape

Operating in a characteristically lo-fi manner, using materials and techniques that exist quite far down on the artistic food chain, he strives for ends greater than the sums of their parts in an effort to elevate and democratise.

Murphy’s work has consistently engaged with questions concerning the individual’s position within the sheer mass of information facing us, the gravitational pull of these signifiers and sites of meaning, and the way in which the individuals relationship to their environment is colored, if not wholly determined by the social and cultural forces with which we may negotiate but rarely control. Yet despite these sources of alienation, Murphy displays no resignation. His work precisely embodies a negotiation with these cultural forces, a negotiation that, despite the seriousness of Murphy’s intent, is shot through with a playfulness that creates a space for reconfigured modes of interaction and new possibilities of artistic experience.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Gordon Matta-Clark at the Whitney Museum

A retrospective of the work of Gordon Matta-Clark could not fail to pose a serious challenge to any museum attempting such a task. By its very nature - conceptual, often-site specific and, in an unfortunately high number of cases, impermanent - the work defies the strict limitations of institutional space. It is a credit to the Whitney then that this show is a success. The work is astutely curated in a manner that emphasizes the focus and coherence of Matta-Clark's work without sacrificing its urgency and socially engaged dimensions. The show is experienced almost as a puzzle, the disparate pieces we initially encounter, coming together to form a cohesive vision of living space in transformation, freeing itself from embedded practices and institutionalized constraints.

The centerpiece of the show, and the work that one first encounters on entry is 'Splitting' from 1974. It is the best known work and here we have not only the familiar documentation on collaged silver gelatin prints but also the four corners of the house on display. These, along with other large pieces of masonry from various projects, add a visceral element that is lost with the simple viewing of photos.

Matta-Clark was himself aware of this as evidenced by his method of collaging photographs . With this move away from simple representation, the sharp edges and non-intuitive manner of their construction comes to echo the fundamental undermining of accepted structures at work in 'Splitting'.It is a process of disorientation and re-orientation, what Matta-Clark himself attempted to label as 'Anarchitecture', that we see again and again throughout the show.