Michael Graeve, Simple Methods for Complex Times(2008). Courtesy of e/static and the artist.
Music/art have never been static:
A brief dialogue with Carlo Fossati
by Giuseppe Gavazza
Opened in 1999 in Turin, Italy, e/static is “a space for the art of the present time” (del tempo presente). The Italian version of the website adds: “Art not unrelated nor antithetical to it (the present time), but in accord (well tuned) with phenomena happening in reality.”
“Tempo presente” can be translated as either present time or present tense.
The juxtaposition of the words "tense" and "static" made me think that one might consider an ecstatic state as a form of static tension, a potential energy ready to move, one frame from a movie: a good metaphor and paradigm for contemporary art. The present is the not yet developed future, and art can give us both lenses to look ahead and the energy to move on.
I met with Carlo Fossati, creator and curator of e/static, in December 2008, some days after an event of Visionair-08(yes, with underlined on at the center of the word), Simple Methods for Complex Times, a performance by Michael Graeve. I sometimes claim to write about "sound art" for The Art Section, but Fossati doesn’t like the term. This provided us with a good starting point for our conversation.
e/static is an exhibition space: a big empty, disused factory with large windows and sunlight moving through it in multiple directions. It is a dynamic space that includes time as its inner dimension. It is simultaneously an open/closed, inside/outside site. The space itself may reflect e/static's ongoing project of presenting "live events, generally performances, but of varying kinds." (E/static also has another space for events and exhibitions: blank, an intimate, white first floor space not far from e/static, where Michael Graeve's performance took place.)
Left: Hans Peter Kuhn, Helix (2006). Photo: Gerhard Kassner. Right: Miki Yui, Hitotoki (2005). Courtesy of e/static and the artists.
This project began in 2001 under the rubric EXIT-01, though the events have been produced under the Visionair banner since 2004. Time is a dimension of all art (not just of music or sound) just as music (sound) needs and inhabits the dimension of space. This, if I understand correctly, is the reason for Fossati’s dislike of the term Sound Art. An artist of the present time has access to many different means of expression, different techniques, materials, spaces, time …. . To define Sound Art is to reduce an area, to close an open space, to delimit a thought, to build a cage around a moving being. Sound is but one possible material, along with glass, marble, iron, paper, plastic. In this context, I can see that Sound Art probably isn’t a compelling category.
Most artists choose some media, material, or techniques with which to develop a personal language, but this doesn’t mean there has to be a category and a label for every approach. In an interesting text of April 2005, Breve storia dell’occhio e dell’orecchio [A Short History of the Eye and the Ear], Fossati wrote,
Sound appears in art beginning with certain avant-garde experiences of the early 1900s. Its history is the same as of all those other elements belonging to the natural world, like the living body (especially its strongest, most "natural" and fluid part: blood); animals, living or dead; earth, water and fire. . . . It was as if sound was caged in the hierarchical structures of music (in its Western connotation), rigidly separated from noise, which belonged to chaos. . . . With the Fluxus artists, with Cage, with the artists associated with the "performance art" of the 1960s and '70, sound is released from its obligations . . . and becomes a new medium at the disposal of visual artists to use along with more orthodox elements: color, form, space. (Translation is mine)
I interpret the logo “Space for the art of the present time” as suggesting the here-and-now of things difficult to catch, impossible to fix, impermanent. E/static's predilection for (performative) events is coherent with this vision. In the past five years, Visionair 04-08 has presented 25 performances:
Left: Steve Roden, The moon gatherers (2002). Right: Paolo Piscitelli, At the same time (2008). Courtesy of e/static and the artists
-RANDOM_PLAY>: Rolf Julius, Steve Roden, Paolo Piscitelli, Hans Peter Kuhn, Akio Suzuki, Christina Kubisch, Carlos Casas, Giancarlo Toniutti, Thomas Köner, Dominique Petitgand, Arnold Dreyblatt, Miki Yui, Paul Hendrikse, Vincenzo Cabiati, Patrice Carré, Luca Vitone, Michael Graeve, …. PAUSE
In our conversation Fossati told me: the fascination of Tempo presente, the fugitive instant, is in the revelation of the unexpected in the performed act. This reinforces the theme of the contemporaneity of music I discussed earlier in The Art Section, because sound lives in the present (like memory of the past and expectancy of the future). This attention to sound as the revelation of the extraordinary voice of ordinariness (as in the Julius work just under my eyes/ears during this conversation) made me think about the cage of the standard concert situation in which the public attends only if there is no risk of surprise, to meet again something well known (the same beach every year; the same pub with the same friends; life is an enclosed courtyard, not a path to walk). The traditional concert offers the ease and certainty of a static situation in which I know what will happen, as in a domestic place. No surprises, please! Music is to relax my mind, to give my body the energy to dance, to let my fantasy create a soap opera to evade (avoid) my “normal” life. Why should music/sound stimulate my mind to reflect or to think?
Rolf Julius, 2 x Black and Volcanoes (2001). Courtesy of e/static and the artist.
Is art a bridge from one present to the next? A bridge is something firm and anchored. “Like a bridge over troubled water/I will ease your mind.” So good, what a solace. But music can also be Kafka’s bridge: alive, un-static: “It was toward evening one day- was it the first, was it the thousandth? I cannot tell- my thoughts were always in confusion and perpetually moving in a circle. It was toward evening in summer, the roar of the stream had grown deeper, when I heard the sound of a human step! To me, to me.” (If you don’t know Kafka’s short story “The Bridge,” please read it: it’s a masterpiece.)
This year, 2009, ten years after e/static opened in 1999, a big empty, disused factory with large windows and sunlight moving around inside it, a dynamic space that includes time as its inner dimension, with its blank satellite, via Parma 31/via Reggio 27 – Turin, is still a place for present tension.
Music/art cannot be static.
I deliver from the Cage: 2009, Happy new ears (thanks to John for this quotation).
Giuseppe Gavazza is a composer who lives and works in Turin, Italy.