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sounds of museums
Turchin Project -
sounds of museums II
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further explorations in the multisensory artscape
sounds of museums II
second cycle
Slowly but surely completing the archives of recorded sounds in artspaces, with impressions and considerations.

Ragnar Kjartansson, under the High Line in Chelsea, Nov. 2007
For ten consecutive days, six hours a day, Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson stood in an empty parking lot under the as-yet-abandoned High Line in Chelsea, surrounded by cardboard cutout trees, singing and playing a vaguely drifting song in an unknown muttered language, almost a fragment or caricature of a song. When I happened to walk by a very cold wind was blowing in off the river, and Chelsea was almost deserted. I felt sorry for him, alone in the advancing dusk in his Elvis outfit with a nice guitar. But I've been told that in other moments during the week he had a big, appreciative audience. Since then I've recorded several sound works by this artist, who always seems to find a very engaging way to disrupt normal exhibition practice. For a quick listen go here

Susan Philipsz 2010
This time the Turner Prize went to Susan Philipsz for a pure sound work. Though she has often worked in other media, the press immediately dubbed her a "sound artist". The shortlisted work, entitled "Lowlands", is a traditional Scottish song sung a capella by the artist herself, in three slightly varied versions, originally placed in installations under three bridges in Glasgow, where they generated a truly magical effect (the recording heard here, in fact, is from Glasgow). The choice of "showing" the work at the Tate Britain in a white room, in the show of the four shortlisted artists, with the speakers somewhat artificially pointed toward different corners of the space, revealed a parodox intrinsic to the whole operation. The artist, in fact, has not composed a sound piece, nor has she manipulated found sounds. She simply sings a song, with a certain "natural", some might say "artless" approach. What the prize rewards is not so much the ingenuity of the artist in the creation of sounds (and the song heard in a museum was rather insignificant, though pleasant enough) as her "curatorial" ability... the choice of the work to be shown (the traditional song), of the place in which to show it (the three bridges) and the design of the installation. The organization Artangel, in a timely operation, has produced a series of site-specific works by Philipsz in London; more songs sung by the artist, heard in well-selected places, with excellent, even moving results. For more info: http://www.artangel.org.uk/projects/2010/surround_me
To hear Lowlands click here

Lara Favaretto, recording 29/11/2009 at MAMBo, Bologna
At 17:45 a big round of applause (the sound work titled Voce Comune by Lara Favaretto) signals the imminent closing of the museum, a place where the acoustic aspects of contemporary art are usually managed with a certain sensitivity. On this visit the place was almost disquietingly silent, perhaps to avoid interference with the temporary exhibition in progress on the level below that of the permanent collection. I happened to be with a friend who hates contemporary art (one of those people who say they "can't understand it"). He enthusiastically joined in the cheering. A liberation. And, finally, a work he could understand.
Listen to the recording

Dan Flavin, DIA: Beacon, Riggio Galleries, Beacon, New York
recorded 26/6/2008 by Ricciarda Belgiojoso
Does light have a voice? Close your eyes and get almost dangerously close to the fluorescent tubes of the Tatlin monument series by Dan Flavin to find out. They emit combinations of frequencies in flux, subtle and rather seductive modulations. A work that wasn't perhaps intentionally built to sing, but... there are lots of these almost accidental soundworks out there in artland. Another good example are the sculptures that use refrigerator compressors to 'frost' metal parts, by Pier Paolo Calzolari. Listen to Flavin here