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Exhibition presents partially newly developed works by 11 international artists
Alicja Kwade, 36 disconnected futures (sound wood), 2010. Wood, objects found, 36 parts. Courtesy: Private collection. Photo: Hendrik Reinert.

DUSSELDORF.- On occasion of the tenth anniversary of the KAI 10 | Arthena Foundation, the exhibition Listen to the Image, Look at the Sound presents partially newly developed works by 11 international artists with a unique approach to the interplay between sound and the visual arts.

According to the Canadian composer and musicologist R. Murray Schafer, every visual projection of tones is haphazard and fictive. Yet how images can become tones or sounds become images has always fascinated artists. For a long time and even well into the beginning of 20th century, what had priority in this context was the search for possible synesthetic correspondences – the existence of which Schafer radically calls into question. Whereas in today’s art one seems to have come to terms with his “insight” and given up the search for intrinsic correlations. Images, objects, music, sound and language interact in very different ways; a distinct boundary between static and moving forms of art is disappearing, making way for a complexity of different temporal structures. Such an increasing permeability of boundaries between traditional art genres could already be observed in the 1960s. What later was labelled with the term “crossover”, Theodor W. Adorno then had designated as a “tangle of the arts” (“Verfransung der KŁnste”).

The idea of the exhibition is oriented on the concept of “soundscape”, that R. Murray Schafer developed in his book The Tuning of the World, published in 1977, and on John Cage and his interest in sounds and noises beyond composed musical forms. Hence, the focus is less on the link between art and (pop) music, but rather on artistic ways of dealing with visual and acoustic environments. Environmental sounds, which to date had existed merely as individual citations within through-composed musical structures, around 1900 began to progressively invade music, for instance in music by Debussy or Ravel and especially by Gustav Mahler and Charles Ives, whose symphonies and orchestral works tended to turn out as complex soundscapes – a development radically culminating in the abandonment of one’s own musical activities in favour of sounds penetrating into the concert hall from streets, as in John Cage’s famous “piano piece” 4’33” (1952).

Juergen Staack likewise allows the outside world to infiltrate the exhibition space, by superimposing the visitors’ steps with the artist’s steps on desert sand. Here, the acoustic outside world is present in the form of a recording, similar to a visible landscape captured in a photograph. But what remains of it, when sounds, much like all other digitalized data, can be manipulated arbitrarily? What remains of Cage’s radical gesture, when the sound of the original performance of 4’33” is transferred to digital data and can be purchased at Apple Inc. for 99 cents? These are the kind of questions Sean Snyder asks, while Cory Arcangel presents Jimi Hendrix’s historical Woodstock performance, but what we hear and see is a disfiguringly smoothed, digitally processed version. So, who is the author? The musician, the artist or the algorithm? And what happens when the visualization of music is completely controlled by a computer programme, as in Emeka Ogboh’s work? Is this translation also arbitrary and fictive? Only experts now seem to be capable of assessing this. The scores created by William Engelen can only be performed by musicians whom the artist has familiarized with his very personal notation method. But what impression does it make, when we see music being performed but cannot hear it, as in Katja Aufleger’s work? And are sounds also created in our “inner ear”, when Alicja Kwade arranges components of string instruments to a soundless still life? Next to this there are the spatially expansive installations by artists who are also active as musicians. Julia BŁnnagel’s sculptural compositions of stereometric bodies serve as “stages” for her electronic sound mixes, Catherine Lorent blends drawing and painting with manipulated rock guitars and Mike Hentz shows a multimedia “tableau vivant” based on Beethoven’s Waldstein sonata. Beethoven’s work is also a point of departure for Gregor Hildebrandt, who transferred the iconic recording of the nine symphonies performed by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Herbert von Karajan of 1963 to tape. Then he used that tape to design the new vinyl edition.

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