VOID, Bruit Blanc, 2015, Courtesy the artist and Massimodeluca Gallery, Mestre-Venice, Italy
OGR, Officine Grandi Riparazioni
By Giuseppe Gavazza
Artissima, International Fair of Contemporary Art, the most important contemporary art fair in Italy with meaningful international resonances takes place every year in Turin, Italy. This year, a section of Artissima was devoted to sound. As it says on the web page:
“Sound is the new section of Artissima devoted to monographic sound projects in the contemporary art scenario, presented by galleries participating in the 2018 edition of the fair and selected by an international team of curators. Sound will take place in a different venue, the OGR – Officine Grandi Riparazioni, Torino.”
I took the phrase Sound will take place in a different venue, bolded in the original text, as a positive sign. Knowing the huge, resonant space routinely used for Artissima (the Oval, a building created for ice skating competitions at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games) I dreaded the experience of visiting a selection of sound-art works in such a space. The Art Fair, with its hundreds of stalls and thousands of moving and speaking persons, is very noisy environment in which sound-art works would inevitably have been at a severe disadvantage.
Veduta dello spazio di Officine Grandi Riparazioni (OGR), Torino (2017). Courtesy OGR, Torino. Fotografia di Daniele Ratti.
The OGR (Officine Grandi Riparazioni: Large Repair Workshop.( http://www.ogrtorino.it/en ) is a beautiful example of industrial architecture built for train maintenance in late 19th Century (http://www.ogrtorino.it/en/story) which was partially restored and temporarily opened as a public space for art and music in 2006 for the Winter Olimpic Games. About one year ago, OGR reopened as permanent public space after a further, deeper, renovation.
“For almost one hundred years, between the late nineteenth century and the early 1990s, the only sound one could hear inside OGR-Ofﬁcine Grandi Riparazioni of Turin was that of hammers, presses and tools ﬁxing old and new railway vehicles.
In the mid-1990’s, following a sadly common fate, the old train factory quickly emptied itself of workers and machinery, and in the following fifteen years there was only silence. However, that destiny was subverted on the evening of September 30, 2017, when OGR reopened its gates and, in keeping with its history, sound made an important comeback - not as noise, but as music.
(NR: Nicola Ricciardi, Artistic Director of OGR, Co-curator of Artissima Sound)
OGR is a very vast space. The main area, called The Cathedral, is used for concerts: a spectacular and historic piece of industrial architecture that “offers a space far from the fair's fervent activity that allows the works presented in Sound to create powerful and intimate narratives which involve the public in unexpected environmental experiences.” (IB: Ilaria Bonacossa, Artistic Director of Artissima).
The vastness of this environment should make it a good environment for the exhibition of sound-art. Distributing a reasonable number of sound works over a large area provides the needed barriers of silence between works (instead of sound insulating walls) to offer good listening conditions.
The exhibition consisted of 15 works by 15 artists represented by 17 galleries:
Daniel Gustav Cramer, Vera Cortés, Lisbon
Christina Kubisch, Mazzoli, Modena - Berlin
Ugo La Pietra, Studio Dabbeni, Lugano
Charlemagne Palestine, Levy.Delval, Brussels
Susan Philipsz, Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin +, Ellen de Bruijne, Amsterdam
Roberto Pugliese, Mazzoli, Modena - Berlin
Lili Reynaud-Dewar, Emanuel Layr, Vienna - Rome
James Richards, Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin
Tomas Saraceno, Pinksummer, Genoa
Michele Spanghero, Alberta Pane, Paris - Venice +, Mazzoli, Modena - Berlin
Charles Stankievech, Uniques Multiples, Toronto
VOID, Massimodeluca, Mestre - Venice
Tris Vonna-Michell, Francisco Fino, Lisbon
Franz Erhard Walther, Jocelyn Wolff, Paris
Marzio Zorio, Raffaella De Chirico, Turin
“Gathering work by 15 international artists, Sound is the first installment of a newly commissioned section of the fair dedicated to sound and music as artistic materials. The artists, coming from different horizons and generations, employ it in multiple ways, from sculpture to multimedia installation, from objects to immersive spaces or participatory devices, from archives to musical scores. … 'Why sound now?'. Sound is everywhere. It invades us with information, and in the meantime, it is an invisible, sometimes unheard vector of emotion. Sound is ethereal, its powers are difficult to contain and control. Its elusive materiality that defies visibility exists below or beyond words and language. Sound is a medium in the multiple senses of the term: it is a technology and a matter, that allows connections.”
(YCT: Yann Chateigné Tytelman, Co-curator of Artissima Sound)
Ilaria Bonacossa, director of Artissima 2018 at her 2nd year, is one of the most interesting curators on the international art scene working in Italy. In the catalog of Artissima Sound, we may read some of her statements about the choice, new and innovative in the context of the Italian art world, to devote an important sector of the fair to sound-art.
“Why launch Sound in 2018? … artworks have struck the deepest chord with me ﬁt the definition of sound installations or works … emergence of a new 'aural' dimension in our visual society … art should not stop where real life starts … sounds have specific capacity of occupying space in a very direct and liquid form … Finally, I also think that the art world offers an incredibly open platform for artists wanting to 'play' with different disciplines that question the rigidities of historical formats, thereby allowing for cross-referencing and experimentation as has been the case, in recent decades, between ﬁlm and video art, dance and performance art, and now between contemporary music and sound installation.”
(IB: Ilaria Bonacossa, Artistic Director of Artissima)
Some of the characteristics of sound that emerge from these writings: Sound
… is everywhere, it invades … invisible … ethereal … difficult to contain and control … elusive … (YCT)
… has specific capacity of occupying space in a very direct and liquid form …
Given these understandings of sound, it is not surprising that sound-art is often shown in specialized art galleries, in dedicated spaces, spaces conceived and built (sometimes) for the ineluctable peculiarities of sound. And frequently these are little galleries showing one artist/work at a time: a guarantee of intelligibility and readability.
A large-scale fair for sound-art is a difficult challenge, even when presenting a limited number of works in a huge space. Trying to address the question about optimal conditions for a large and necessarily polyphonic sound art exhibition, I have recorded a video tour of Artissima Sound. You may arrive at your own answer to this question.
Exhibition Video by Giuseppe Gavazza
Zick-zack-Stück (Flechtung) Zigzag Piece (Plaiting) Schreitbahn No 12, 1972,
dyed cotton fabric
D2 - Franz Erhard Walther, Jocelyn Wolff, Paris.
Zigzag Piece (Plaiting) 1972. Video from 00’ 00’’ to around 01’ 00’’
This is the opening work, which covers a large part of the floor of the first room. In the catalog we read: “A fundamental component for the activation of his works is the balance between the participants, who are required to perform actions and hold precise positions. When not in use, Walther’s sculptural objects remain in a dormant state.”
This installation seemed designed to produce the dormant state. The voice of the artist guiding the movements of the visitor was confused in the loud choir of several sounds in the space, and the fact that the area around the objects was fenced precluded any kind of participation.
The Greenhouse, 2017, Exhibition view at Silenzi d'Alberi Photo: Silvia Longhi Courtesy the artist, Galerie Mazzoli, Berlin and Silenzi D'Alberi, Pieve di Soligo (TV)
The Greenhouse, 2017, Exhibition view at Silenzi d'Alberi Photo: Silvia Longhi Courtesy the artist, Galerie Mazzoli, Berlin and Silenzi D'Alberi, Pieve di Soligo (TV)
D1 - Christina Kubisch, Mazzoli, Modena – Berlin.
The Greenhouse (2017). Video from around 01’00’’ to around 02’19’’
The work is conceived for wireless headphone listening; this personal audition provides an opportunity to create an intimate audio path as one walks through the forest of dangling cables, and the headphones’ insulation allows one to concentrate on listening, limiting the interference of the polyphonic choir of the surrounding works.
Fluide propagazioni alchemiche, 2017 Glass, liquid waterproof speakers, audio system composition variable dimensions Photo: R. Malberti Courtesy the artist and Galerie Mozzoli, Modena - Berlin
D4 - Roberto Pugliese, Mazzoli, Modena – Berlin.
Fluide Propagazioni Alchemiche (2017). Video from around 02’19’’ to around 03’28’’
“Is a sonic and visual environment composed of jugs of different sizes filled with coloured liquids of various kind, each containing an underwater speaker.” The visual is beautiful and visible, but the underwater sounds need a quieter environment to be properly perceived and appreciated.
Horror Vacui (The Velvet Underground After Hours), 2008 Variable dimensions
Courtesy Unique Multiples, Toronto
D5 - D5 - Charles Stankievech, Uniques Multiples, Toronto.Horror Vacui (2008). Video from around 03’28’’ to around 03’48’'
Crystal clear vessels, apparently empty, are inhabited by looped sounds.
“Pop songs from the 1960s and 1970s repeatedly resonate inside the jars until the clarity of the music is contaminated by the harmonic reactions produced by each piece of handcrafted glass. The container slowly becomes its content, as the sound of the material enters this space of compensation.”
The homage to Alvin Lucier (I am sitting in a room, 1969, Empty vessels, 1997, …) is explicit: the crystal bell jar become a micro-room resounding with its own voice triggered by the vintage songs. A delicate voice, not easily audible from outside.
“The resulting melody is transposed onto a vinyl, in a unique edition, and stored in a handmade felt case.”
scripta manent, verba volant (recording remains, sound vanishes).
Abyss Film, Kestnergesellschaft, Hannover, 2016-17 Installation view
Courtesy Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin
B1 - James Richards, Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin.
Crumb Mahogany (2016). Video from around 03’48’’ to around 04’49’’
This is a six channel audio installation where “the sound component is broken down and reassembled through meticulous editing.” Sitting on the bench at the center of the six loudspeakers, it is possible catch the full polyphonic score of the work, but because of the work’s central position in the whole space, it is also possible to hear it in almost every part of the exhibition. It is the second most invasive sound work (after War Damaged Musical Instruments, see forward, B9) in the exhibition. In my opinion, both works need dedicated spaces.
Body music, 1973 Video still
Courtesy the artist and Levy.Delval, Brussels
B2 - Charlemagne Palestine, Levy.Delval, Brussels.
No title. Video from around 04’49’’ to around 05’40’’
“For Artissima Sound, the artist has recreated a historic exhibition at Sonnabend Gallery in New York from 1975 which included a series of synesthetic drawing etched on tablecloths.” Charlemagne Palestine is an historic experimental artist who frequently worked as both a performer and a musician. The liveness side of his creativity is here reactivated by the ad-hoc installation (please refer to Philip Auslander for definition of Liveness and Reactivations).
B4 - Ugo La Pietra, Studio Dabbeni, Lugano.
Audio Casco (1967). Video from around 05’40’’ to around 07’14’’
The audio helmet (audio casco) is a “methacrylate engraved while cold then inflated when hot, hanging from four metal structures reminiscent of phone booths.” Inside this transparent cocoon, a sound-insulated space, people may listen to the artist himself performing vibrant music with voice and flute. The way this work evokes solitary confinement is interesting in relation to communication in the era of smartphone. Younger people probably cannot really understand what is a “transparent cocoon phone booth” because they’ve never experienced a phone booth are nevertheless immersed in an invisible but profound solitary confinement produced by the audio-helmets of wired or wireless headphones. This is the oldest work presented in this exhibit: vintage work could be current and may give a key to re-read the present. All art has been contemporary (Maurizio Nannucci)
Audio Casco, 1967 Audiovisual installation 250x292x74 cm Photo: Archivio Ugo La Pietra
Courtesy Studio Dabbeni Gallery, Lugano
Live Through That?!, 2014 Installation view
Courtesy the artist and Galerie Emanuel Layr, Vienna - Rome
B7 - Lili Reynaud-Dewar, Emanuel Layr, Vienna – Rome
Live Through that?! (2014). Video from around 07’14’’ to around 08’10’’
This work involves interaction between a video documentation of a dance performance transmitted on a large TV screen in a bedroom where three beds are occupied by visible large loudspeakers “which are amplifiers of a repetitive, enervating music.” The artist’s body is present only through her video simulacrum and the empty and cold beds.
B9 - Susan Philipsz, Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin +, Ellen de Bruijne, Amsterdam
War Damaged Musical Instruments (2017). Video from around 08’10’’ to around 09’37’’
This is the most dominant voice in the polyphonic choir of the whole exhibition: the resonant horn-speakers distribute the fanfare voices across the entire space.
“Sounds is materially invisible, yet it can define a space, calling forth memories of the past, and Philipsz’s installations are capable of reaching the innermost depths of the human spirit”and not only; this sonorous brass choir reaches and permeates the innermost depths of the whole exhibition space.
War Damaged Musical Instruments, 2015 Installation view Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin 2016
Courtesy the artist and Galeria Vera Cortés, Lisbon
B8 - Daniel Gustav Cramer, Vera Cortés, Lisbon
Coasts (2018). Video from around 09’37’’ to around 10’41’’
The space of this installation - a room of about 12 x 12 feet - is defined by plasterboard walls (not at all as high as the huge dome of the OGR) where a set of loudspeakers melds the sounds recorded in several coastal cities; a relaxing backwash expanding in a quiet tide spreading beyond its defined space.
Film still from Registers, 2017
B6 - Tris Vonna-Michell, Francisco Fino, Lisbon
Register (2017). Video from around 10’41’’ to around 11’31’’
“The focus on detail translates into complex sound and video installations dense with particulars. … Register is the result of a montage of the composition of the artist/musicians Jan Matthé and Vonna-Michell’s field recordings. Visitors are invited to listen in an intimate, immersive sonic space in the stand.” The video projections didn’t work and the sonic space was not enough intimate to understand the artist intent.
B5 - Tomas Saraceno, Pinksummer, Genoa
Radio Galena (2018). No documented on video.
“Radio Galena is a mineral sound sculpture that is not powered by electricity, either through batteries or solar panels. It functions like a traditional crystal set – one of the first types of radio receivers ever invented. The sounds come from a station of the Mapuches, a group of naive inhabitants of southern Argentina who use the radio mainly to address issues of rights and independence.” I missed this work because the listening point of the headphones was crowded and the queue too long for me to wait: I apologize. Maybe my absence brought good luck, since it won the OGR Award!
Radio Galena, 2018 Galena Stone, copper wire, high impedance headphones, AM Transmitter
Courtesy of the artist and Radio Mapuche at Multicultural Amsterdam Radio and Television Photo: Studio Tomás SaracenoTomás Saraceno thanks/ Rafael Railaf and Mapuche Foundation FOLIL
Bruit Blanc, 2015 Courtesy the artist and Massimodeluca Gallery, Mestre-Venice
B3 - VOID, Massimodeluca, Mestre – Venice
Bruit blanc (2015). Video from around 11’31’’ to around 12’43’’
“Starting with the premise that sound, through the natural phenomenon of acoustic erosion, leaves traces of its interaction on every material, the emitted noise is configured as a polyphonic chorus of voices, narrating a story from the past through the sonic archaeology of space.” The visual and sonic impact of this work is pointed and coherent: the simple white paper cones evoke antiquated record players (His Master’s Voice label, Kinsky-Fitzcarraldo affiche) and the sound is physically created with a simple system reproducing the very beginning of the sound recording era: a metal point, at the top of the cone, scrapes the coarse surface of a spinning disc, producing a noisy sound. This evoked, at least for me, a good mix of childhood and vintage nostalgic reminiscences and a reference to Biblioteca (see forward D3):
Tuned Volume (2016) walnut wood, plywood, loudspeaker, audio system 145x150x156 cm - 60min. loop Exhibition view at Plazzo Te, Mantova Produced in technical partnership with Lunardelli est. 1967 Courtesy the artist and Galerie Mazzoi, Modena-Berlin and Galerie Alberta Pane, Paris-Venice
D6 - Michele Spanghero, Alberta Pane, Paris - Venice +, Mazzoli, Modena – Berlin
Tuned Volume (2016). Video from around 12’43’’ to around 13’46’’
The artist seems to be playing with the multiple meanings of the word Volume: first it can be both an Italian and English word; second it is a measure of space and sound. The tuning of this sphere should become the tuning of he world itself (obviously I refer to Murray Schafer’s volume with same title) and the wooden globe works as a resonator - a musical instrument; or a lo-fi loudspeaker – for the otherwise imperceptible ambient voices.
Biblioteca, 2018 Wood, megnetic tape, amplifier 11 elements 90x240x50 cm each
Courtesy the artist and Raffaella De Chirico Gallery, Torino
D3 - Marzio Zorio, Raffaella De Chirico, Turin
Biblioteca (2018). Video from around 13’46’’ to around 14’34’’
“(Biblioteca) investigates the gesture of engraving and the relation of human beings to the invention of writing – a crucial moment for the beginning of civilisation. A long, ordered row of trestles support wooden bars that contain a magnetic tape bearing a text. Invisible writing thus becomes an audio track to reproduce by passing a pointed bar along the magnet. The sound and speed depend on the action of the visitors, who - based on the direction and speed of the manual reading gesture – activate always varying scores”.
This work assumes the “natural” gesture of handwriting and enables it to read a magnetic tape recorded sound of speaking voices through a pen like bar having at the top a magnetic tape reading head instead of the nib. Whether or not sound recording should be considered to be a type of writing is a well-known and controversial dilemma; audio recording and sound electrically amplified sound reproduction were crucial developments for music, and therefore for civilization, too. Interesting, although inevitable for me, the comparison with B3 Bruit Blanc, on the topic of read/write sound(s) and the transmission of meaning through gesture and/or mechanism.
Giuseppe Gavazza is a composer, a teacher and a researcher who lives and works mainly in Turin, Italy and Grenoble, France.