Detail of TarraWarra Biennial artist Dylan Martorell’s exhibition work, Sound Tracks TarraWarra 2012, mixed media, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and Utopian Slumps, Melbourne
I write my best blogs in the shower. Words and phrases wash over me until they form themselves into sentences. This Biennial exhibition, Sonic Spheres, currently showing at TarraWarra Museum of Art has taken up a lot of my shower time lately. Two words kept bobbing up, demanding attention – avant-garde and adventure.
Installation view of Sandra Selig’s work hold me in scattered light 2012, monofilament, nails, site-specific installation, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist, Milani Gallery, Brisbane and Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney.
The curator of Sonic Spheres and director of TarraWarra Museum of Art, Victoria Lynn, is no stranger to the avant-garde. Her father Elwyn Lynn surrounded her with art and the avant-garde from a very early age. No doubt conversations around the dinner table had art and ideas at their centre. When I asked her at what point she realized that she would work in the arts, I knew immediately that it was a superfluous question. She has never considered any other profession.
Here in the Yarra Valley we are all the richer for her early certainty. To prove my point, her exhibition, Sonic Spheres, successfully explores the idea that the disciplines of music, sound, visual arts and performance are indivisible. The diversity of the work exhibited is impressive, including installation, assemblage, interactive video sculpture and experimental musical notation. Nothing is predictable or as it may initially appear. Be prepared to be challenged, because that is, after all, the job of the avant-garde.
Installation view of Nathan Gray’s work Treatise (Pages 131 and 78) 2012 (based on drawings by Cornelius Cardew) wood, aluminium, stainless steel, rope and tape, 320 x 480 x 180 Courtesy of the artist and Utopian Slumps, Melbourne.
For me, this was an adventure into the unknown. I didn’t completely understand the theory behind it, or it’s historical underpinnings until I spoke to Victoria Lynn during an interview shortly after the Biennial opened. The penny dropped when Victoria suggested three things to keep in mind while viewing the exhibition.
1.) Think about music and sound in your own life. Think about times in your life that were quite powerful and memorable and often a sound will come to mind. It might be a song, a sound that was very disturbing, a crash. Think about memorable sonic moments and how sound can get under your skin… Embrace the fact that sound is something within all of us. That music has had an affect on all of us.
2.) Music has influenced these artists in a myriad of ways. For one artist it might be that they have dual practices. They’re in a band and they make paintings. And the two are conceptually interlinked for them. For the aboriginal artists from the show, who are from Kiwirrkura, the song cycle that has inspired the work, is an integral part of the creation of the work. So they are visually representing a set of stories and a set of songs and for them they’re completely integrated. Another artist Nathan Gray created a sculpture on the wall in response to a composer from the mid century and his sculpture during the opening was played and the same for Dylan Martorell the sculpture is actually also an instrument. So think about sculpture as an improvised form of instrumentation. So it’s a cluster of responses to sound and music. And each one will be quite different.
3.) The integration of art and sound goes way back to the early 20th Century and the Italian Futurists who wrote a manifesto called the Art of Noises where they celebrated the idea of noise. That avant-garde tradition went right through to the mid twentieth century, to the Fluxus Artists in Germany, to Nam June Paik, to John Cage and his celebration of found sound and chance experiments right through to experimentation today. There is a long and respected history of this kind of integration. It’s not a history that we’ve really seen in Australia. In Australia we tend to see Picasso and we see less of the alternative avant-garde streams, which are a bit more underground. (Quoted from an interview with Victoria Lynn on 8/8/12)
Detail image of TarraWarra Biennial artist Dylan Martorell’s exhibition work, Sound Tracks TarraWarra 2012, mixed media, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and Utopian Slumps, Melbourne.
With this framework in mind, I was taken through the exhibition with Victoria as my guide. Lucky me! I was struck by her enthusiasm and her generous, open ability to share her extensive knowledge and deep understandings. Perhaps Sonic Spheres was working its magic, as I began to hear the dynamic melody in Victoria’s voice when she referred to the ‘etudes’ in Marco Fusinato’s work and the ‘vibrations’ and ‘refrains’ evident in other work.
By the end of our tour, my appetite for adventure was still not satisfied. I wanted more, so snuck back to prolong the experience. I let my hair down and did the wah tootsie to activate David Haines and Joyce Hinterding’s interactive video presentation. I marvelled at the sonic possibilities of the Goataphone and imagined the spine tingling experience of hearing one of our treasured indigenous people singing the song cycle that inspired the work of Ray James Tjangala. Finally, I allowed the haunting video, ‘Some dance to remember, some dance to forget.’ to move me to tears.
I left TWMA that day with a felt sense of the power of the avant-garde. Sonic Spheres reverberated through my being, having activated my body, mind and soul. The following morning, I knew the whole experience had settled into place when my morning shower was taken up, not with words and phrases but with listening to the sounds of the water and playfully flicking water here, there and everywhere to see what sounds I could create. My sonic experiment built up to a crescendo with a joyous ‘splat’ into the puddle of accumulated water on the shower floor. A wild notion of adding dry pigment to the whole shower experience let me know I was going too far, but then… maybe not.
To the artists who participated in Sonic Spheres and Victoria Lynn… Bravo for offering art lovers a breath of fresh air and a unique opportunity for adventure in the Yarra Valley.
Close up (detail) view of TarraWarra Biennial artist Victor Meertens Goataphone instrument for the making of experimental sound, on which he will give a live performance the first Sunday of every month throughout the exhibition. Courtesy of the artist.
Paul Grabowsky opened TWMA’s 2012 Biennial. I leave you with his concluding words,
“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Victoria Lynn on two Adelaide Festivals. She made an enormous impact on the art world there, demonstrating a perfect balance of charm, conviction and rigour through which she was able to bring the visual arts back into the Festival spotlight. Here at Tarrawarra she has license to realize her philosophies, her pluralism, her humanity, her vision.”
TarraWarra Biennial exhibition opening visitors enjoying the view from TWMA’s North Gallery.
Sonic Spheres closes December 9th 2012.
PS. I neglected to mention that a series of performances on the first Sunday of each month enhance the sonic experience. For details of the two remaining performances, click on this link.
Also, with the help of YouTube, readers can view recordings of live performances of exhibition artists Dylan Martorell and his installation Soundtracks TarraWarra 2012, the experimental sound group Snawklor, Nathan Gray and collaborators in A Scratch Ensemble and Victor Meertens and Alexis Ensor on the Goatafone.
Via SoundCloud, listen to a selection of the exhibition artists’ sound art from the TarraWarra Biennial 2012: Sonic Spheres catalogue CD, it includes Marco Fusinato, Christian Thompson, Snawklor, Ross Manning, Eugene Carchesio, Victor Meertens and Alexis Ensor and A Scratch Ensemble.