Hayward Gallery 27 April - 18 June
Chris Haikney writes of deconstructed toys and 7" biscuits.
All in the name of art of course.
Before anyone says "sound art? is that not just music?": curator
David Toop defines it as "art where sound is the primary carrier
of meaning." Art and Meaning: no Robbie Williams then. The exhibition
was packed with work, much of it specially commissioned and/or involving
fairly famous names from the music world. The pieces ranged from
video installations by the likes of Scanner to noisy sculptures
like the wooden robot that greets you with nonsense words. I'll
get my criticism out the way first.
There were two problems with the exhibition as a whole: sound bleeding
across exhibits and a wallpaper tendency. These problems are probably
related (to minimise the overspill you have to favour quieter works)
but there was a definite bias. Also the work by the famous names
was disappointing. Eno offers no surprises with his installation;
I think a career in interior design is beckoning. Lee Sonic Youth
Ranaldo's Hwy Song is obvious and shallow even by my standards.
And Pan Sonic's 2 x 50 Hz thru Leslie Speaker is boringly
literal, a manifestation of their early ultra-minimal work rendered
leaden and static by the speaker's squat bulk.
So what did I like? Disinformation's Artificial Lightning
amplifies 12 flashguns as they recharge. This builds to a crescendo
where the flashes all fire at once and capture your shadow on the
phosphorescent wall. Initially threatening, with its echoes of Checkpoint
Charlie and Hiroshima victims' shadows, when I go back the feel
is completely different. A group of schoolchildren as young as six
had come in and were making shapes on the wall, three at first then
others from different groups. What was overwhelming and sinister
viewed alone became harmless family fun. Pick your own metaphor.
Kubisch's Oasis 2000 out on the pavilion took the hackneyed
old soundscape idea and gave it a twist. Stringing induction loops
over the concrete space and playing different natural sounds recreated
an unspoilt countryside in London. With a lion in one corner and
a stream in another, it highlighted sound's role in creating a perceptual
space. Either close your eyes and be somewhere else or look into
the office next door and smile; every home should have something
Project Dark contributed three gramophone sculptures based on
their series of singles pressed on unusual materials. In this case
there was a biscuit, a piece of glass and a spark generator. A simple
but brilliant idea for inspiring thought about media, materials
and messages if you're that way inclined. But a merchandising opportunity
missed by the cafeteria, there were no 7" biscuits for sale.
I really liked Max Eastley's sculptures, but felt they were overwhelmed
by their surroundings. They're so fragile that the sounds they make
are lost in the rich soup of the gallery. I still found the sculpture
where a stick through a chain tries to stay perpendicular to the
wall (Architecture 2?) oddly touching, like watching a baby haul
itself to its feet. Phantom Drawings of Mechanical Ghosts
was another delicately poised work, as you pass the spindly figures
they seem to whisper and get disturbed.
way of extreme contrast there was also Toyzone by Paulo Feliciano
and Rafael Toral, consisting of various electronic toys stripped
down and wired up. The soothing Furbish of the centrepiece becomes
maniacal chirrups and flashing lights. The toys are made unfamiliar
and disruptive but remain playful: it's always when you aren't looking
that they seem to make the best noises.
The sheer volume and variety of work in the show provided the value
for money factor. Expand your sonic horizons for the price of your
dreary local indie night! Fun for all the family! There wasn't a
unifying vision or shared agenda among the artists but that'd be
like demanding every painter used the same colours. What can be
seen is that as art has to compete for shortened attention spans
in a flashy world it can no longer ignore all but one of the senses
and more use of sound can be expected.
Chris Haikney recently left
university with a degree in Procrastination and is looking for money.
Or failing that, a job.