22 May - 7 June 2008
Curated by Ben Byrne
Adam Costenoble, Ben Byrne, Matt Chaumont + Thembi Soddell
Tracts is a group exhibition that explores the role of sound in our understanding and experience of the spaces around us. Through interweavings of sound and sculpture, the works in Tracts explore the convergence and interplay of physical, virtual, societal, emotional and psychological space.
The exhibition presents four individual, yet related, sound works that each engage directly with the gallery. Through the interplay of physical installation and sound fields it is intended that sounds from each work saturate and dissect the space, overlapping one another and making for an immersive, visceral experience.
TRACTS: BRIEF NOTES ON DESIGNING THE GALLERY
‘Primitive man knew no separate worlds of vision and of fact. He knew one world in which both were continually present within the pattern of every-day experience. And when he carved and painted the walls of his cave or the side of a cliff, no frames or borders cut off his works of art from space or life – the same space, the same life that flowed around his animals, his demons and himself’ (Kiesler 2002; pp.34).
Frederick Kiesler was an architect, designer and radical thinker, who dedicated his life to developing a concept of ‘correalism’ or ‘continuity’, focusing on the interrelationships between people, culture and space. He only completed two buildings in his lifetime, although one of these was the impressive Shrine Of The Book that houses the Dead Sea Scrolls in Jerusalem. As a result of his theoretical inclination and lack of productivity his peers largely shunned him.
In any case there were those who admired Frederick Kiesler’s work and perhaps not surprisingly most interest came from the art world and accompanying philanthropy. David Samuel Gottesman funded research into the possibility of Kiesler’s still unrealized ‘Endless House’, which formed a large part of his life’s work, being constructed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Subsequently Gottesman also engaged Kiesler as an architect on the project to house the Dead Sea Scrolls, which he had purchased as a gift for the State of Israel and which would eventually lead to the Shrine Of The Book. More significantly, and many years earlier, Peggy Guggenheim had employed Frederick Kiesler to design her Art of This Century Gallery, which was opened in New York City in 1942, and it was in a note accompanying that project that Kiesler wrote the text which opens this essay, and in turn guides the title and direction of my curatorial notes on the 2008 Next Wave Festival exhibition Tracts, which lies before you now for your exploration.
Frederick Kiesler’s text, entitled ‘Brief Note On Designing The Gallery’, represented a call to reunify art with life, something he saw as possible through a renewed interest in and understanding of space. Quite conveniently then, the 2008 Next Wave Festival is themed ‘Closer Together’ and it is most obvious that any notion of being ‘closer together’ intrinsically involves engagement with notions of space, be that physical space, virtual space, or more complex constructions of space such as private and public space, emotional and psychological space, exactly the focus of the works in Tracts. Each of the pieces in the exhibition explores these various constructions of space in different ways, sharing a common interest in the role of sound in such constructions, and together combining to occupy the space of the gallery, intermingling with one another, their environment and their subjects.
Adam Costenoble’s work The Obstruction presents a striking, singular pillar of besser blocks from which we hear the faint callings of those inside, locked in some other space, the work I have contributed entitled Tremors emphasizes the role of the individual’s perception in constructing space as well as the effect of that individual upon the surrounding space, Matt Chaumont presents an acute interrogation of the perception of objects in space in his work An Example and Thembi Soddell’s work Window draws the subject inside to a private, psychological space. As part of his manifesto Kiesler demanded that ‘the work of art must resume its generic function as an active organic factor in human life’ and this too is a clear agenda in the exhibition with all the works expressing a connection with the average, the ordinary and the everyday through the artists’ choice of materials (Kiesler 2002; pp.34). Although the role of sound remains of primary concern in each artwork, we each make use of a variety of materials, from bricks and wood, to water and metal, unpacking our understanding of the significance of common materials and structures and asking the audience to approach them in new ways.
Frederick Kiesler believed that ‘man, seeing in a piece of sculpture or a painting on canvas the artist’s projected vision, must recognize his act of seeing– of “receiving” – as a participation in the creative process no less and direct than the artists own’ and in this way all the works in Tracts emphasize the central role of the subject in any experience of space (Kiesler 2002; pp.34). Kiesler goes on to argue that ‘today, the framed painting on the wall has become a decorative cipher without life and meaning, or else, to the more susceptible observer, an object of interest existing in a word distinct from his. It’s frame is at once symbol and agent of an artificial duality of “vision” and “reality”, or “image” and “environment”, a plastic barrier across which man looks from the world he inhabits to the alien world in which the work of art has it’s being’ and this is precisely what we seek to avoid with this exhibition (Kiesler 2002; pp.34). All the works invite the active participation of the subject, through all their various sensory perceptions, and are presented to be negotiated in every sense.
An engagement with the concept of sense also inhabits the exhibition, or rather one of sensory perception. It is arguable that sensation exists only in the senses themselves, rendered manifest by external stimuli, and so sound, like other modalities, exists only in the sense that receives it and light and sound, for example, are only distinguished by the separate perception of sensory stimulus by the various senses (Sterne 2003; pp.60). Addressing this very issue, Frederick Kiesler produced a great deal of work around the idea of ‘extended senses’, creating a body of drawings from 1938 through to 1942, commonly referred to as his “Vision Machine” drawings, in which, attempting to simply present the perception of an object by a body in a room, he would emphasize the nerve, the body itself barely forming an outline on the page and eventually coming to argue that everything, both inside and outside the body, is electromagnetic (Wigley 2007; pp.47). Similarly several of the works emphasize the fluidity of sensory perception, demonstrating the relationship between sound and other modalities through the shifts in state of energy at flow in the works and at every point within the exhibition the actuality of the works as perceived serve to emphasize the centrality of the individual perception of each of our senses in our understanding of our surroundings and ourselves.
Frederick Kiesler claimed that ‘we, the inheritors of chaos must be the architects of a new unity. These galleries are a demonstration of a changing world, in which the artist’s work stands forth as a vital entity in a spatial whole, and art stands forth as a vital link in the structure of a new myth’ and I present Tracts with similar aspirations, for if ‘primitive man knew no separate worlds of vision and of fact’ similarly ‘he’ knew no separate world of hearing and ‘no frames or borders cut off his works of art from space or life’ in any sense, and so, as I would argue should be the case now as then, art inhabited ‘the same space, the same life that flowed around his animals, his demons and himself’ (Kiesler 2002; pp. 34-35).
Ben Byrne - 2008
Kiesler, F. 2002, ‘Brief Note On Designing The Gallery’, in E. Kraus (ed.), Freidrich Kiesler: Art Of This Century, Hatje Cantz Germany, pp. pp.34-35.
Wigley, M. 2007, ‘The Architectural Brain’, in T. Tierney & A. Burke (eds), Network Practices: New Strategies in Architecture and Design, Princeton Architectural Press, New York, pp. pp.30-52.
Sterne, J. (2003). The Audible Past. USA, Duke University Press.
This project is supported by the Next Wave Festival.
This exhibition has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.