Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Sunday, November 04, 2007


Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum
258 Main Street, Ridgefield, (203)438-4519
Voice & Void: 2006 Hall Curatorial Fellowship Exhibition
September 16, 2007- February 24, 2008

Exhibit includes works by Rachel Berwick, Joseph Beuys/Ute Klophaus, John Cage, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, VALIE EXPORT, Anna Gaskell, Asta Gröting, Christian Marclay, Melik Ohanian, Hans Schabus, Nedko Solakov, Julianne Swartz, and Cerith Wyn Evans.
“Fifty years ago,” my sixty-something mother said after we went with my father to the Aldrich last week, “Museums were dusty, frozen places. The buildings were quiet, almost church-like. They weren’t interactive and loud like the show we just saw.” She continued, “We used to go to museums to feast our eyes. Now we can feast our ears as well.”

We’d just seen the exhibit Voice and Void: 2006 Hall Curatorial Fellowship Exhibition, curated by Austria’s Thomas Trummer. The show explores the use of voice in the visual arts. There wasn’t as much in the show to feast the eyes on as we would have liked, though this seems to have been by design. According to the museum’s website, Trummer uses the art in his show to consider “the effects of what happens when one sense is replaced by another, with particular focus on hearing and seeing.” Many of the visual aspects of the exhibit are simple, sometimes stark.

One piece, “Open,” by Julianne Swartz, is a simple wooden box which viewers are invited to open. When the lid is lifted a recording of many individuals saying “I love you” begins. The voices are quiet at first: “I love you,” then become louder and louder the longer the box is open until there are many voices shouting “I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU.” A sign on the wall asks listeners to shut Swartz’s box gently.

In a video in the museum lobby by Asta Groting called “The Inner Voice/You’re Good," the ventriloquist Buddy Big Mountain is given a pep-talk by a doll which was made by Groting and is supposed to represent Mountain's psyche. The doll begins, “You are super.”
Mountain replies, “Oh, I don’t know.”

“Yes, you are. You have to think you’re super, too.”
“Why? I don’t think I’m super at all.”
“You are good, though. As a matter of fact, very good.”
“Oh come on. Why are you saying this?”
“Because you are such a great person, with so many possibilities.”
“Oh, come on. I’ve become a question, even to myself.”

(The full script can be found on-line.)Groting has made seventeen videos of different ventriloquists performing similar scripts with the same doll.

The loudest piece in the exhibit is “Opera for a Small Room” by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. This is a life-sized room-within-a-room, with shelves of LPs on the walls, a working turn-table, a chair, a chandelier, and other objects which make it cozily cluttered. An automated show takes place in the room, beginning with a man’s sonorous voice: “In the middle of the stage a man sits alone in a room filled with speakers, amplifiers, and records.” The man tells a story that goes on for about twenty minutes. The turn-table plays real records. Different lights click and flash on and off, at times frantically, accompanying the words and music. Often it seems as though there is man's shadow moving around the room. At the sound of a train the chandelier trembles. The story the man tells—a tragedy about a woman and a train—is occasionally campy. When we saw it my mother sat on a bench and laughed, while my father sat next to her and listened seriously, saying later that it reminded him of old-time radio shows. My own response was somewhere in-between. The visual effects made the show take place both in the room and in our minds.

Weird screeching noises emit from the second floor of the Aldrich, which is where two live parrots are enclosed in a lighted white aviary that acts as a shadow-puppet screen. The birds’ outlines can be seen against it. They look a bit like ghosts—which, in a way, they are. The exhibition is called “may-por-e’,” and on the walls around the enclosure is a legend about a tribe called the Maypure’, who lived in what is now Venezuela. The people are said to have been wiped out by another tribe, who kept their parrots as spoils of war. The parrots were the only living creatures left to speak the Mapure’ language. An explorer named Alexander von Humboldt supposedly recorded words from the parrots, and many years later Connecticut artist Rachel Berwick taught two of her own parrots, Papetta and Apekiva, to speak the language too. (More information on how this was done can be found at a website called Parrot Chronicles, in “Bearers of a Lost Language.” The article is by Sue Farlow, who helped Berwick with her project.) The exhibit has traveled as far as London, and two parrots in Instanbul and another pair in Brazil have also been trained in Maypure’, using tapes of Berwick’s birds. A video of the birds can be seen and heard at Berwick’s website.

Papetta and Apekiva can be heard at the Aldrich until February 24. They are representations of voice, and of void, and of the interactive, lively places that art museums have become over the past fifty years.


Post a Comment

<< Home