Before coming up with a proposal and a solid idea to execute as a group effort for this final project for 4D II we are asked to do individual research on works on either video/sound/performance art and analyse the respective artists and their works, how some of them might be controversial. I am leaning more towards the exploration of using sound for the final art installation project.
Before searching up some examples, I searched up the meaning of sound installations and got the impression that it is a time-based art which sometimes can involve the element of visual to help support/complement the installation as a whole or change it to become a video art installation altogether. With the intention to explore the idea of using sound for the final project’s art installation, below are some that I’ve found interesting and possibly usable as references and inspiration.
I couldn’t really find much sound art installations that were deemed as controversial but my personal take on this would be that the whole idea of a sound art installation itself is actually controversial. Reason being that if you were to take in a sound art installation that is purely made up of sounds only, sure it’s meant to evoke a feeling in the consumers through the listening experience however the sounds are subjected to one’s perception as it’s pretty abstract. And because of that, artists that work with solely sound for their installations are able to get away with touching on controversial ideas. Unless the work includes the other elements like visual in the form of a video/image accompaniment where the audience gets an even clearer idea of how they are supposed to interpret the installation piece.
Here’s one sound artist that has faced a little controversy though with his work I suppose – Cross Section of a Revolution (2011) which has two films being juxtaposed. One on cultural tradition and the other, a political movement and accompanying the installation is an electronic sound that gives a sense of anxiety to the work as the whole. Looking further, one is of drummers at a ceremony in Kenya and the other is about a man in Lahore making a speech about terrorism.
Quoting an article by theguardian on his work:
“ Mirza recorded his drummers at “a stick-fighting ceremony where the groom has to fight for his bride. My attention shifted to the drummers, who provided the driving force to the ceremony.” They drum on plastic bottles, anything that comes to hand. “A subtext,” he says, “is the place of music in Islamic culture. In some Islamic cultures, music is forbidden. An underlying theme to my work is a criticism of religious faith, and the dogmas involved in religious faith.” “
Easily when there’s culture/religious faith involved in a work of art, there’s bound to be controversy involved, people questioning the work as it could be sensitive to the identified groups. In this case, the people of that religious faith. It could get a little touchy with how the artist portrayed his topic through the installation piece.
Taking a look at his famous or rather infamous piece 4′33″ (1952), this work of his probably fits the idea of performance art more since there’s a subject involved during the performance but I’ll be looking more at his interesting take on the use of sound in this piece.
Cage’s intention with the piece was to have the composition be made up of sounds present in the environment encouraging people to listen to the sounds around them but the impression they got in return was that they were subjected to silence because there was an a pianist present but he did not play anything after taking his place on stage. The sounds of the piece were actually made by the whispers that came from them which became louder as they grew more curious about what was happening in front of them.
Cage’s intentions eventually sparked controversy about the piece since the audience thought they were treated to silence for the whole performance duration of 4 minutes and 33 seconds.
Next looking at how sound art has developed over the years, the public has definitely become more receptive about it possibly thanks to Susan Philipsz who was awarded the Turner Prize in 2010. One of the most controversial awards around because of its history, the questioning on how some past awardees works could’ve possibly been that good to actually have a meaningful effect on the reputations of well-established artists because of their actions and approach.
Philipsz primarily works with sound and her works often consist of nothing more than an empty gallery and a recording of her own singing and sometimes she would build soundscapes into unusual locations i.e. playing a entirely unrelated recording at her selected site for the installation. Nonetheless, her receiving the award helped sound art gained increasing exposure and is now in a better state of reception.
Lowlands Away (2010) is one such example of Philipsz’ style as mentioned above. She recorded three versions of this particular song which is of a man drowned at sea returning to tell his lover of his death and it was first performed under three bridges over the River Clyde in Glasgow and later on in an empty room at Tate Britain.
Leaning away from the controversial side of sound installations and looking at the idea of having an environment as part of a installation just like Cage’s intention with the use of environmental sounds, I came across sound artist Jim Green who does it rather well.
For instance with his work below, Talking Fence (2010). How the installation functioned was when people walked past the installation site lined with fencing, activated by a sensor, it would trigger the fence to talk and interact with the passersby giving them compliments etc.as they walk by. Below’s a documentation of the installation piece and the responses from the public were great.
While browsing through more his works I chanced upon another of his installations which was amusing and brilliant – Laughing Escalator (2004). What I get out of this earlier dated work of his is that it has the same intention like his later piece, Talking Fence above which aims to encourage greater interaction from the public with his works and bring across the connection with everyday life.
What I like about these two particular works of his is his attempt to make relatable and approachable to the public with that light-hearted and amusing touch to it. Keeping this in mind, it’ll be interesting to explore the idea of making our final installation art work based on something that the audience can resonate with.