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the sound already present

sally ann mcintyre: sound full, dunedin public art gallery

Australian-born and currently based in Dunedin, Sally Ann McIntyre is a practitioner and independent curator working between the fields of radio, sound and writing. she hosts the mini FM station radio cegeste 104.5FM as a solar or battery-powered, exploratory, nomadic platform for site-specific radio art projects, most recently as a NZ Department of Conservation artist-in-residence on Kapiti Island, the country's foremost biosecure bird sanctuary.

Michael Graeve, Multiple Monochromes (2012), Sound Full Michael Graeve, Multiple Monochromes (2012), Sound Full
courtesy the artist
ARGUING AGAINST THE CRITICAL CO-OPTION OF SOUND AS A SUB-GENRE OF CONTEMPORARY ART, SOUND FULL: SOUND IN CONTEMPORARY AUSTRALIAN AND NEW ZEALAND ART AT THE DUNEDIN PUBLIC ART GALLERY STRATEGICALLY STEERS AWAY FROM FRAMING THE WORKS OF ITS 16 CONSTITUENT ARTISTS WITHIN GEOGRAPHICALLY BOUNDED OR GENRE-SPECIFIC DISCURSIVE MODALITIES.

Rather, the exhibition’s co-curators, Caleb Kelly and Aaron Kreisler, postulate a more laterally constructive approach to placement of the sonic—an intention to listen to “the sound already present in contemporary arts.”

Visual cues within Michael Graeve’s Multiple Monochromes (2012) clarify the invisible and vice-versa. Consisting of a series of flat planes of colour, painted in situ with brushstrokes going beyond the panel and onto the wall, seven are left hanging where they were painted, five lined up on the floor in relation to the gaps left behind by their removal. The painterly vertical and horizontal dynamic, in which the revelation of the white wall is a kind of ‘visual silence’ framed by the colour traces of the re-situated works, is accompanied in the space by various sonic coordinates: vintage domestic speakers emitting occasional static tones, powdery hisses, deep physical hums. Positive and negative space is made manifest in both painting and sonic media, with the binary dynamics of on/off being subtly undercut by the display of process and composition within the room. Negative visual space would ideally be weighted here by its sonic analogue—the presence of silence with a similar compositional force as a dynamic counterpart to the tones. But, sadly, the positioning of Graeve’s work next to more constant soundtracks doesn’t quite allow for the level of attention the work intrinsically invites.

Conversely, in Between Worlds (2011) Philip Dadson portrays the juncture between audio and visual elements as meniscus or membrane—a relation which implies permeability as much as reflectivity. This work is playful in its destabilisation of the video-eye as central focal point, a literal upending of the centre of seeing toward a roaming, hand-held aesthetic of embodiment. This travelogue inverts sensory hierarchies, its overhead directional speaker rendering vision mobile and sound restfully grounding. Elsewhere, Dadson’s Rock Records (12rpm, White Island, 2011), a series of exquisite depictions of the material traces of seismic events, reveals geological time as a series of silent, hand-rubbed soundings. Also exploring the sync of sight and sound, Robin Fox’s Volta (2005), a digital oscilloscope MAX/MSP translation, is an endlessly watchable generative revelation, the projected waveforms’ weaving and evolving describing mathematical space.

The various materials (ferrous rocks, a small monitor, mirror-altered books) of Torben Tilly and Robin Watkins’ companion works Fig 2: On Seeing Through Obstacles, Across Space and Round Corners (2008) and Fig. 5: An Experiment with Time (2010-2012), inhabit a hypnagogic, quantum netherworld between the manifest and the dematerialised, with all the filmic inversion of Cocteau’s The Blood of a Poet (1930) and the philosophical articulation of the intertwining of substance and thought in embodiment that Merleau Ponty has called “the flesh of the world” (la chair du monde). The voice of well known New Zealand actor Grant Tilly (1937-2012) reading a text on time, fragmented and inverted by audio editing, ghosts the room with stutter and loop like some hybrid of Alvin Lucier’s I Am Sitting in a Room (1969) and the voiceover from a John Wyndham radio serial dimly remembered from a 1970s childhood. It hovers on the edge of audibility, like a transmission returning from deep space, which paradoxically, due to its emanation from two extremely directional ‘audio spotlight’ speakers, also crystallises an evocation of an intensely radiophonic intimacy, seeming to appear directly from the walls.

Vicky Browne, The Sound of Plants and Music (2012) Vicky Browne, The Sound of Plants and Music (2012)
courtesy of the artist and Galerie pompom
Vicky Browne’s similarly, if more gently psychedelic paean to the human fantasy of ecological harmony, The Sound of Plants and Music (2012), sets fragile craft-technological construction alongside utopian ideas of interspecies communication. Feeling like a participant in the early experiments of Indian radio pioneer and psychobotany enthusiast Jagadish Chandra Bose, I read aloud to four potted ferns from Malcom Lambert’s Medieval Heresy: Popular Movements from the Georgian Reform to the Reformation conveniently left in my chair’s pocket. Both microphone and speaker are clad in sticks, like the kinds of ‘blinds’ used by audio and visual nature recordists to sneak up on their subjects.

On the other end of the interactive, David Haines and Joyce Hinterding’s Monocline, Black Boxes (2011-2012) casts the solitary user into a real time gaming space where nothing much happens, its landscape of white, abstract, interlocking spheres and associated sounds turning to the gravitational pull of bodily interaction in a work that inhabits a seemingly contradictory phenomenological space: both highly kinaesthetic and disembodied.

Thembi Soddell, Window 2008 Thembi Soddell, Window 2008
courtesy of the artist
Thembi Soddell’s Window (2008) posits sensory cancellation as an invitation for deeper engagement, with the sculptural interjection of a body-sized private space into one of the more expansively public, spectatorial areas of the gallery. This blacked out listening booth, containing a multi-channel sonic composition of intensely delineated and precise dynamics, somewhat paradoxically leaves its closeted participants in a state of heightened vulnerability and bodily awareness.

Kusum Normoyle’s performative intervention on the same mezzanine, directly above the audience on opening night, was a short-lived and spectacular burst of voiced staccato that made full use of the architecture’s sonic properties. Normoyle’s video piece, Volitional Bus (2010), installed on the noisy threshold between street and gallery, startles passers-by with its intermittent flurries of equally ferocious glossolalia. It includes documentation of two earlier performances, the artist interjecting her improvisational poetics of vocal aggression and investigations of the amplifier as instrument, into urban metropolis and breathtaking eco-touristic spectacle (see realtime studio for more Normoyle).

Marco Fusinato, Reproduction of Double Infinitive 2 (2012) Marco Fusinato, Reproduction of Double Infinitive 2 (2012)
courtesy of the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery
On the adjacent wall of the same foyer space Marco Fusinato’s Reproduction of Double Infinitive 2 (2012) stretches the scale of its original work’s appropriated photo-journalistic image to breaking point. Up close, swarms of dots connote the relationship of noise to signal. From the relatively coherent visual perspective of the ground floor, it’s a work extremely appositely sited; a brick frozen in mid-throw gestures provocatively toward the seemingly anodyne public space beyond. A provocation around the billboard-scaled image as capitalistic circuit and the public square as zone of political rather than consumptive articulation, this work seemingly hoists the implied collision of its depicted moment of violent revolutionary dissent—one ever-deferred, if not silenced, by its representation as a still photograph—toward the actual architectural features of the gallery’s windows.

In its staging of these artistic strategies around the use of sound not as representative overview, but as an indexical constellation of sensibilities and formal solutions emerging from a variety of contexts, Sound Full is an invitation to experience cross-medium physical and conceptual interactions— projects elucidating the spatial and material relation of sound to everything from virtual environments to painting—while not being a show specifically about translation. The resulting curatorial (and sometimes actual) dissonance between pieces can make for a somewhat uneven initial impression, but the works reward return, their intimate singularities, combining with others I have no space to mention here, opening out into a series of intriguing, poetic and productively interlocking relations.


Sound Full: Sound in Contemporary Australian and New Zealand Art, curators Aaron Kreisler, Caleb Kelly, artists Vicky Browne, Philip Dadson, Robin Fox, Marco Fusinato, Michael Graeve, Brent Grayburn, David Haines & Joyce Hinterding, Eugene Hansen, Jenny Gilliam and Dr Kron, Michael Morley, Kusum Normoyle, Thembi Soddell, Torben Tilly & Robin Watkins, Dunedin Public Art Gallery July 7-Nov 11; http://dunedin.art.museum/exhibitions.asp

This article originally appeared in RT's online e-dition Sept 5.

Australian-born and currently based in Dunedin, Sally Ann McIntyre is a practitioner and independent curator working between the fields of radio, sound and writing. she hosts the mini FM station radio cegeste 104.5FM as a solar or battery-powered, exploratory, nomadic platform for site-specific radio art projects, most recently as a NZ Department of Conservation artist-in-residence on Kapiti Island, the country's foremost biosecure bird sanctuary.

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 50

© Sally Ann McIntyre; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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