Listening Awry



 
Curated by Jim Drobnick
McMaster Museum of Art, Hamilton
May 31-September 1, 2007
http://www.mcmaster.ca/museum



Artists: Kimsooja, Christian Marclay,
Santiago Sierra, Su-Mei Tse.
  Sounds resonate in every social activity – from ritual chants and symphonic concerts to cacophonous revelries and respectful silences. These acoustic situations do more than reflect cultural sensibility, they create it as a living presence. Engaging bodies, experience and the rhythm of relations, sound merges individuals into larger collectivities. Yet not all aural events are culturally sanctioned. Embarrassing, noisome or neglected sounds reveal cultural preoccupations as much as mainstream musical trends. Other sonic phenomena bear a radical potential to disrupt conventions of listening. If the ways in which sound can manifest or transmit cultural values are numerous, the converse is also valid: audioworks can interrogate the politics of melody and harmony, orchestrate atypical bodily and environmental noises, and construct alternative identities and communities.

This exhibition explored artistic practices that reverberate at the intersection of aurality and culture. Contrary to the neo-modernist trend in contemporary audio art – in which soundworks foreground abstraction, perceptual effects, technological processes and self-referentiality – the works in Listening Awry affirm the embeddedness of sound and its connection to the social. Works by four internationally prominent artists engaging with sound – Kimsooja, Christian Marclay, Santiago Sierra and Su-Mei Tse – presented video, installation, and performance documentation to highlight the diverse means by which sound can be utilized as a tool for reflection and critique.

For a fuller text, see Jim Drobnick, Listening Awry, Hamilton: McMaster Museum of Art, 2007, 32 pp.
 
Kimsooja, Mandala: Zone of Zero, 2004.
Single-channel, mixed-media sound installation (9:50 loop).
   
Kimsooja converts a glittering 1950s-era American jukebox into a device to facilitate meditation. Incongruously emitting the sacred chants of Tibetan, Gregorian and Islamic monks, Mandala both exposes the materialism of Western visual culture and provides its antidote.
  Kimsooja, Mandala: Zone of Zero, 2004.
Single-channel, mixed-media sound installation (9:50 loop).
Christian Marclay, Mixed Reviews (American Sign Language), 2001.
Video monitor, (30:00).
   
Marclay translates the exuberant prose of music reviews into the silent gestures of American Sign Language, setting up an intriguing set of synaesthetic correspondences and paradoxical reverberations between the disparate media of sound, language and gesture.
  Christian Marclay, Mixed Reviews (American Sign Language), 2001.
Video monitor, (30:00).
Santiago Sierra, El Degüello, 2003.
DVD projection (62:30), audio and text.
   
Sierra’s twenty-four hour bugle performance of the “slaughter song,” employed by Spanish and Mexican armies, demonstrates how sound has served as a weapon of warfare; even when culturally appropriated and geographically displaced to New York City’s financial district, it can function as a form of symbolic intimidation and resistance against First World economic policies.
  Santiago Sierra, El Degüello, 2003.
DVD projection (62:30), audio and text.
Su-Mei Tse, L’Écho, 2003.
DVD projection (4:54) and audio.

 
Su-Mei Tse, a classically trained cellist, revises the notion of the sublime from visual to sonic terms, replacing awe and immensity for a sympathetic call-and-response dialogue with a subtly rebellious Alpine echo.
  Su-Mei Tse, L’Écho, 2003.
DVD projection (4:54) and audio.
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