Sometimes gallery going brings one into contact with art that provides evidence of a shared concern or interest by artists who have no knowledge of each others’ work. For the viewer it’s an illuminating set of coincidences that proposes a kind of conversation.
These cumulative coincidences form the basis of That’s What I Call Music, an exhibition idea based on a series of chance of encounters and which has been simmering in my mind for the past 4 to 5 years, been the subject of several proposals and still remains unrealised.
It’s an idea that bridges art and music by combining visuals and sound elements – or works that imply sound’s presence – in a host of intriguing ways. There’s no great thesis backing up this selection. It’s merely about the work of a handful of artists who have been drawn to considering the look, purpose, potential meanings of and/or technology relating to the familiar and not-quiet-so-obsolete vinyl recording. I like this work and, for that reason, I’ve decided to assemble the selection here.
The artists hail from the UK, Canada, USA, Finland, Netherlands, Italy and Ireland. Have a look at the images and notes that accompany them…
I first saw some of Haroon Mirza‘s stunning work in ‘Anthemoessa’ in his second solo exhibition, which took place in 2010 at Mother’s Tankstation in Dublin. His work SOS (2010) pulled to it like a powerful magnet. It featured a glowing light bulb suspended from a long cable that travelled around a rotating LP. Each time it passed a nearby receiver, a pronounced amount of interference was caused.
The work pictured on the left is called Now That’s What I Call Music (2011). The title of the one on the right is One Zero (2012). They represent two examples of several works Mirza has made by cutting vinyl records and mounting them in corners. Part of these works’ attraction is the manner in which they take advantage of the material’s mirror-like qualities, which makes them difficult to photograph. Indeed, this restructuring of the object nullifies it, but also introduces an engaging sense of improbability, draws attention to the process of flipping of albums and recalls the feel and appearance of the polymer discs while being handled. The title of the work on the left is drawn from a series of music compilations released in countries round the world in the 1980s and ’90s. Mirza has effectively deflated the phrase’s intended sense of enthralment. His appellation is decidedly tongue-in-cheek.
Craig Leonard has produced several works based on vinyl records and music. Hand made records, for example, featured in his Gift For The Screamers (2007), which was based on a Screamers’ demo tape he found in Toronto’s York University archives. In the course of the project he managed to track down and present vinyl releases of the demo to most of the now long defunct Los Angeles punk band’s members.
The work pictured above – Wheels of Steel (2009) seen in studio prototype and exhibition views – follows an alternate trajectory. I came across it in the review of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia’s ‘Sometimes Always; Sound Effects’ written by Sue Carter Flinn that appeared in an issue of Canadian Art Weekly. Flinn notes that exhibition was “a clever and playful examination of our preoccupation with audio technologies…” Viewers can select which of the various op-art bicycle wheels they want to place on the turntables. They can then have fun modulating the tones by adjusting the knobs controlling the light sensitive oscillators.
Washington DC artist Maggie Michael tends to produce materially rich and evocatively complex paintings mixing text with bold, abstract slathers of paint. I’d seen some of her canvases at the Hirshhorn Museum, but was taken by surprise when I came across Kriston Kapps’ 2009 Art Papers‘ overview ‘Upheavels, Surges, and Endgames: Maggie Michael’s Conflict Theory of Painting’, which featured this image of her installation All At Once (2008) shown at G Fine Art Gallery.
Though thoroughly silent, the installation plays with a host of ideas linked to the record’s dualistic character. The texts cut into the discs play with the idea of ‘cutting a record’. The words, like the music, lie dormant until activated. One is brought to life by the stylus; the other by the human mouth. The text also conforms to the records’ ‘A’ and ‘B’ sides in an amusing way. For example, the face of one says ‘YOU BE UP’. Flip it over and its verso counters with ‘YOU BE DOWN’. In certain respects Michael’s actions have destroyed the recordings but, in altering their purpose, the actions have also invigorated them, given them a new life.
Michael has spoken of giving careful consideration to the songs and performers when devising the texts that were cut into each record. It some cases she even made sure particular tracks were spared to ensure the possibility of later playback. She has also gone on to use records as stencils in some of her paintings. She is attracted to parallel forms of language and cites the way one reads through foreign language films, for example. These are of great interest to her.
The Pink Twins’ Inwards to Infinity was shown as a sound installation using test pressings at Helsinki’s Galleria Sculptor in 2011. In 2012 they released a 10″ vinyl edition in splattered pink. Copies of this release were used in their exhibition at Centro Centro in Madrid, as part of Centro Centro’s Audiópolis sound art series.
One side of the record features 50 locked grooves that “mix cello, flute, clarinet and harp by the defunensemble with Pink Twins electronics.” In the course of the installation a different combination of 4 locked grooves would be played each day. For visitors to the exhibition, this presented a continuously changing range of sonorities that shifted the habitual and short lived act of playing a record into an extended event.
Dennis de Bel’s Field Recording (2011) was included in the exhibition ‘Land Art For A New Generation‘ in Rotterdam. It is a clever, blow-up of a record etched into grassland with the help of a tractor and plow. The 12000 inch replica/performance lives on in the form of a video and a limited edition 12″ vinyl disc.
I came across Strinna & Cenghiara’s Wood Song (2002) while checking out Toronto’s YYZ Artists’ Outlet website in September of 2012. At that time they were about to open of Brian Groombridge‘s sculptures and wall works in what was the first ever ‘YYretroZpective’. As part of the project Groombridge was offered the opportunity to select an accompanying artist. He responded by choosing Strinna & Cenghiara’s sound piece.
Groombridge had only seen the sound installation in documentation and was pleased to be able to include it. He found it to be “beautiful and quirky.” The wood discs, which were played on a standard turntable, produced “a wonderful and deeply varied noise.”
Though I haven’t yet been able to hear the work, I find it’s poetic qualities tantalising. I am also attracted by its delicious absurdity.
These series of photographs documents the visual evolution of Bit Symphony, a kind of orchestra O’Callaghan put together using outdated stereo systems, old LPs in various states of ruination, a computer and a bunch of circuitry. Originally exhibited in 2009, I saw what I would guess to be the most recent version (documented in the 4th photograph) that was exhibited at Dublin’s Temple Bar Gallery & Studios from December 2011 to January 2012.
O’Callaghan, who apparently isn’t very musical, put together this sound sculpture to play what he terms ‘symphonies’. These musical pieces are literally composed of bits: clicks, scratches and snippets of pop songs and dialogue that are too short to be identified. It makes for a very rich mix of sounds. To see the work come alive and cycle through a composition was a fascinating experience and I put some of my impressions into a review that appeared in Art Papers. The exhibition was also accompanied by a limited edition vinyl recording that included a number of the ‘symphonies’. A selection of excerpts is available on the artist’s website.
AND JUST A LITTLE MORE…
For anyone interested in further information on this phenomenon, please check out the catalogue of the exhibition The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl that was launched by the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, in 2010 and toured the USA until late 2012. In 2009 Mother’s Tankstation presented a darkly humorous selection of altered album covers as part of ‘There is a place in heaven for me and my kind‘, an exhibition of work by the Finnish painter Petri Ala-Maunus. Finally, you might also want to scroll through the pages of longplayingart.blogspot.com. It contains numerous examples of art and design involving the reuse of vinyl records and/or related imagery.
Credits: Special thanks to Gabriela Cala-Lesina of Haroon Mirza’s studio, Craig Leonard, Maggie Michael, Pink Twins and Brian Groombridge for images and/or information. Remaining images were sourced from the Internet.