Janet Cardiff, Naama Tsabar, Alona Rodeh
The Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Helena Rubinstein Pavilion for Contemporary Art
August – November 2013
The compartmentalization of the different senses and their affiliation with distinct categories of artistic production has a long historical legacy, which has been critically reexamined by both modern and contemporary artists. In the course of the twentieth century, sound was introduced into the field of visual art in different ways and in various contexts: the Dada and Surrealist movements of the early twentieth century, the groundbreaking work of John Cage and of the Fluxus and Conceptual artists active in the mid-twentieth century, and the wide range of contemporary artists who have been incorporating sound into their works in recent decades. These and numerous other art movements, groups, and individuals have thus sought to undermine both visible and invisible divisions, to undo existing preconceptions, to create independent products, and to transform the viewer into a listener, explorer, and active participant.
"Showtime" focuses on works that engage sound as an actual or potential dimension of the artwork, and on artists that approach sound in a visual way.
The works in the exhibition are not concerned with abstract sound, with the sounds produced within the architectural structure, or with existing voices or sounds captured in other sites and imported into the exhibition space. Rather, they examine how sound may function as an integral part of the artwork by emanating from within it or resonating through it, while deconstructing the exhibition space and creating within it a series of internal, ephemeral spaces, a sort of invisible architecture.
In this sense, the works on display are not related to the developing category of "sound art," or to art that examines architecture as a musical instrument or echoing chamber. Rather, these are sound-based works that make calculated use of the exhibition space, while encompassing entire musical compositions rather than fragmentary or abstract sounds –a decision rooted in their ongoing examination of the situation of the show.
The works in this exhibition offer a physical and sensorial experience in which sound is the dominant structuring element. The viewer's movement through space is dictated by his attraction to, or withdrawal from, a specific vibration, sound wave, or field of sound. This is a process of exploration, of revelation, and of assimilation in a space that is not physically demarcated, yet is defined by the sound waves and virtual sound walls created within it. In this manner, the static exhibition space is charged with dynamic movement, with durational experience and a sense of evolvement, while the viewer's experience of listening is not secondary to visual observation, but rather precedes it and seemingly enables it.
In his book The Responsibility of Forms, Roland Barthes distinguishes between hearing, which is a physiological function, and listening, which is a conscious and intentional cognitive act. In his book Listening, Jean-Luc Nancy describes listening as a process of coming into being in the world. This process, he argues, produces a primal form of separation, since the resonance of sound in space forms the individual body as a relational interior. Listening awakens the body's relationship to itself, and constitutes a manner of exploration rather than a state of absorption. Nancy thus treats listening as a pre-verbal force that constitutes an essential dimension of being a subject in the world.
At the same time, the works in this exhibition are concerned, each in its own way, with the introduction of temporality into space and with the situation of the show, while deconstructing its spatial, conceptual, and physical dimensions. In this manner, they probe, disrupt, undermine, or negate familiar dichotomies between the viewer and what is being viewed, audience and stage, performance and intermission, object and action. This strategy produces a particular form of spatial and aesthetic experience, while simultaneously constituting a political action that democratizes the exhibition space.
The title of the exhibition is related to that decisive moment prior to the beginning of a show – a moment in which the senses are calibrated, concentration is high, the body is tense and excitement rises. A focused moment of quiet before the storm. This term, which is taken from the world of the performing arts, is largely emptied out in the context of this exhibition.
The Forty-Part Motet (a reworking of Spem in Alium by Thomas Tallis, 1573), 2001
The Forty-Part Motet by the Canadian artist Janet Cardiff is a reworking of Thomas Tallis' 1573 composition Spem in Alium, and features forty loudspeakers playing Tallis' well-known piece. Arranged in an oval, these loudspeakers are the only presence in the exhibition space.
The motet is laid out for eight choirs of five voices (soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass). Beginning with a single voice from the first choir, other voices join in imitation, each in turn falling silent as the music moves around the eight choirs. All forty voices enter simultaneously for a few bars, and then the pattern of the opening is reversed with the music passing from choir eight to choir one.
The specific positioning of the speakers in the exhibition space, and the fact that each of the singers' voices was recorded individually, create a three-dimensional field of sound, in which the viewer may choose to focus on a single, particular voice or to stand at the center of the space and listen to the entire choir.
The result is a polyphonic structure that deconstructs the conventional spatial relations underlying the experience of listening to music in general, and to classical music in particular. In contrast to the acoustic conditions prevalent in cathedrals or concert halls, which are designed to direct the sound created by different voices to the center of the space, in this work it is sound that shapes and defines the space rather than being defined by it.
"Motet" is a term applied to a number of highly varied choral musical compositions. It derives, most probably, from the Latin movere (to move), and describes the movement of the different voices against one another in space. Cardiff's work underscores this dimension of vocal movement, so that it becomes a palpable occurrence in space.
Still, since the voices appear and disappear, unexpectedly emanating out of the loudspeakers and then falling silent, the viewer's movement in space cannot be coordinated to response to them. The viewer has no ability to anticipate what direction the next voice will arise from, even if he is familiar with this musical composition. The result is an ongoing sense of surprise, together with the experience of pursuing a moment of intimacy with a longed-for voice.
This work raises psychological questions concerning the tension between human presence, which is largely absent from the exhibition space, as well as from contemporary technological culture, and between interpersonal relations and intimacy, which arise nevertheless in relation to the singing voices. In fact, the work offers an individuation of the singing voices, as well as of the viewers. In addition to the voices having been recorded separately, every viewer may choose his own preferred trajectory of viewing and listening, a trajectory that may be transformed upon reentering the space. And so, detached voices and roaming bodies lacking a specific spatial orientation combine to create an intimate experience entirely based on sound.
Propagation (Opus 2), 2013
Naama Tsabar's work is a site-specific installation composed of freestanding walls scattered throughout the exhibition space. The walls are each fitted with a different type of musical stage equipment (an amplifier, loudspeakers, a stage monitor, and more), so that the amplifying part is embedded in the internal, hollow part of the wall. Like a room dismantled into individual components, the walls face in different directions, supported by everyday, functional objects – amplifiers, loudspeakers, monitors, dollies, beer boxes, and so forth. They are thus elevated from the floor, and appear to be floating in space. Each of these walls functions both as an independent sculpture and as a functional amplifier emanating sound from within – sound that is the result of a distant, ostensibly detached, musical action. The space also contains two supporting columns that appear to be suspended on the verge of collapse, and which are held in place by lighting fixtures that illuminate their interior with shafts of light.
The sculptural objects situated in the space relate to its architecture while also diverging from it, creating a shift that opens up onto a new possibility. The floating columns echo the architectural columns of the existing structure, while the floating walls echo the walls of the White Cube – a concept that has been stripped of meaning, so that it appears today as an empty shell. The sensation is of a space that was deconstructed not merely physically, but more importantly conceptually, giving rise to a sense of rupture or dismantlement that makes possible a new subjective and physical experience. The viewer's movement among the objects in space thus becomes somewhat voyeuristic, as if constituting a search for circumscribed spaces and hidden corners – simultaneously constructing and deconstructing intimate and highly specific areas on both a spatial and a psychological level.
The sculptural space created by the work reflects both an exhibition space and a show space. The sculptural objects combine elements underlying the construction of space and elements enabling the emanation of sounds, which support one another while also creating a limitation – a recurrent principle in Tsabar's work.
The work produces constant conceptual tension between the dimension of the muffled sound imprisoned within the walls and the dimension of its emanation and eruption into the exhibition space. The amplified sound is directed into the interior of the wall, into an inaccessible space of imprisonment, yet it inevitably filters out, propagating and expanding in space.
The title of this work, Propagation (Opus 2), has a double meaning that relates to the spatial dimension of the work, to the circumscribed space that propagates and expands in a process of structural and conceptual deconstruction. It also relates to the artistic dimension of the varied collaborations between the artist and different musicians, who will participate in activating the work during the exhibition period. In addition, the title points to the personal, intimate dimension of the work, which involves the situation of the performer and the viewer in a state of potentially excessive closeness, mutual examination, emotional exposure, or possible partnership.
In this manner, the work enables each performer to isolate himself with the wall, his instrument or his microphone, while potentially allowing for reciprocal relations between the performers. Gazes may intersect momentarily, hit a wall, and be reciprocated in the course of artistic collaborations.
When the work is activated (an event that will take place once a week when the artist and various musicians perform on it), it will create an acoustic situation in which every wall has a double dimension – interior and exterior, front and back. Standing on the smooth side of the wall allows for only a partial process of listening, since the sound is somewhat muffled and diffuse. On the other side of the wall, by contrast, it erupts freely into the space. In this manner, specific, circumscribed sound spaces are created within the exhibition space. As the viewer moves between the objects, he is exposed to them and comes to know them in a non-visual manner through listening or physical sensations, without being able to anticipate their location or limits, giving rise to a sensorial experience of a different order. By means of sound alone, Tsabar succeeds in creating relations between an exterior and an interior in a space devoid of boundaries, devoid of limits.
The artist and various musicians performed on the work every Thursday at 8:30 p.m. throughout the duration of the exhibition
Participating musicians include: Tamar Aphek, Gilbert Broid, Ben Drusinsky, Maya Dunietz, Roei Freilich, Ram Orion, Zoe Polanski, Neta Polturak, Avishag Cohen Rodrigues, Yaron Sarel, Gamliel Sasportas, Adam Scheflan, Naama Tsabar, Or Zubalsky, and others.
Additional information and links to performances are available at:
Neither Day nor Night, 2013
Alona Rodeh's work was specially constructed for the space it is located in, on the lower level of the pavilion. Upon entering the darkened space, the viewer comes upon a wide wooden stage inlaid with white Formica and natural wood. Gradually, the picture becomes clear and the work is revealed. Glaring colors that transition into one another are projected onto a reflective pleated curtain located at the far end of the stage. Low-toned music, which is synchronized with the changing lights, emanates from the loudspeakers set into the floor. At a certain point, the viewer must decide whether the stage is an autonomous sculptural object or a means of display; whether to step onto it and explore the potential experience of spectatorship it offers, or whether to remain standing before it and observe the changing appearance of the space. The deliberation about whether or not to step onto the stage, the lighting transitions, and the development of the musical piece come together to create the sense of preparations for a show. When the musical piece comes to an end, however, the space remains falls silent and is stripped bare, illuminated by a weak, white work light.
The music playing in the space is a contemporary adaptation of an 1888 composition by the popular modern composer Erik Satie, titled Gymnopédie #1. Whereas the original composition was for piano, a keyboard instrument, this adaptation is for tuba, the lowest-pitched brass instrument; moreover, the editing process creates a dissonant state in which chords are seemingly produced by the tuba, an instrument which in fact can only produce single notes. The result is simultaneously harmonious and disharmonious, transforming the familiar into the unusual and creating a sense of expansion into a fantastic, seemingly impossible dimension.
The lighting and music sequence does not last more than several minutes, and the pause before the next sequence begins is significant; it creates an inverse dialogue with the work itself, in which silence itself becomes musical and vocal. The introduction of the element of time and duration into the space momentarily transforms it into an abandoned basement, a spectacular banquet hall, and a senseless exhibition space featuring an architectural model reminiscent of the Parthenon. The work as a whole has an impressive, mesmerizing, seductive quality, yet its unique structure does not allow for catharsis. It could continue endlessly or stop abruptly, without any clear indication. In this sense, it does away with familiar habits, concepts, and standards – undermining the fixed structure of the show, and producing an experience of tension and expectation that dissipates in a bright flash of light.
In many ways, this work may be read as an examination of the concept of representation itself. The decision to expose the apparatus of display, the fact that the work simultaneously resembles an architectural model and a spectacular banquet hall, and the viewer's potential ability to circumvent the stage and move into the depth of the space, entering the circumscribed, invisible area behind the curtain, all come together to ridicule the pathos infusing the display.
The title of the work, Neither Day nor Night, refers to a state of negation – an intermediate, ephemeral state that defies definition and verges on collapse. In the same manner, the space of the work produces a distinct, clearly circumscribed heterotopia suspended outside the law, outside time; a space that produces suspension, expectation, and unfulfilled longing.
In addition to its literal meaning, the title charges the work with a mystical dimension related to what lies beyond our control. The origin of the expression "Neither day nor night" is the Prophecy of Zechariah, yet it is largely familiar through the liturgical poem "Then, in the Middle of the Night," which appears at the end of the Passover Haggadah. The poem describes a day that will exceed the natural order of things, when light will shine in the middle of the night. This description refers to the End of Days, when there will no longer be days or nights, when time will exceed its own limits. An entirely different cosmic state. A state of redemption.
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