Disquiet

(2005)

Curatorial project consisting of an exhibition at Modern Fuel in Kingston, Ontario from August 24 to September 24, 2005, and a catalog with CD. The curatorial essay is included here, along with images (followed by the original call for submissions).

Participating Artists
Robert Bean
Dave Dyment
Afshin Matlabi
Diane Morin
Matt Rogalsky
USSA (Steve Bates & Jake Moore)

This Quiet: A Misguided Ambulation

The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me. [1] (Pascal)

At the gallery’s entrance, you encounter space denied. You cannot merely walk in and encapsulate the entirety of the space with one gaze, you are forced to circumnavigate. A guided ambulation: enter, turn right, then left, and left again, and again, you can only exit by taking the same path in reverse. You are always entering or exiting the space, never entirely in, always in the way. William S. Burroughs wrote of language as “an organism that forces you to talk,”[2] Disquiet is very literal in the transposition, it forces you to walk. You follow a course, a peripatetic enterprise, where language is staged in space, set along spatial lines as well as temporal ones. The languages heard and unheard along the itinerary emphasize the sonorous and musical envelope of the utterances over their semantics: “The unheard sounds came through, and each melodic line existed of itself, stood out clearly from all the rest, said its piece, and waited patiently for the other voices to speak. That night I found myself hearing not only in time, but in space as well. I not only entered the music but descended, like Dante, into its depths.”[3] The unnamed narrator in Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Mancalled this his new analytical way of listening to music (albeit under the ‘spell of the reefer’); Disquiet aims for a similar hearing of space. The translucent corridors deny the space in order to open up spaces, an act of plurification, they fragment the gallery along rhythmical lines.

Disquiet is replete with lines: lines superimposed, lines in braille, lines of rote nationalism, line of analog tape, lines of code made to interrupt lines of speech, fuse lines, multilingual lines telling you to shut up. In one of his short stories, Borges describes a peculiar labyrinth “consisting of a single line which is invisible and unceasing.”[4] An infinite line, an infinity of lines. By way of the CD included in this catalog, Robert Bean’sSilenzio extends the line out the gallery. The piece is never heard in the gallery space, Silenzio is silent as long as you do not put it in a CD player and press play. The muteness of the recorded object is a material rendition of the silence of sound …You are kindly requested to remain silent… the message asking for silence is not itself silent, a recurring paradox with any representation and consideration of silence. In this instance, the pronouncement’s directives are repeated seven times, in seven languages, for seven populations admonished to let the Sistine Chapel reverberate without the disruptive addition of their mere mortals’ murmur. Babel be quiet. The guards precede the recording with some shushing but to no avail. Only the disembodied announcement’s sheer volume is able to subside the din, but just temporarily. The teeming masses keep streaming through and need to be constantly retold. We cannot not talk, we are rote players, the needle is always on the record.

Afshin Matlabi’s needle has stuck on a particular series of records, his rendition of two national anthems (from an ongoing series) rehearse patriotism as a sing-along of stereotypes. National identity here is writ large and flattened across the screen, pure surface. Pure sound, the anthems are rendered as phonetic envelopes so as to facilitate Matlabi’s citizenship à la carte. His patriot act employs the iconography of power with comic irreverence, he renders allegiance slippery, his momentary self-othering bespeaks poignantly the difficulty (perhaps, the impossibility) of blurring cultural boundaries insofar as they coincide with national barriers.


AFSHIN MATLABI, Japan’s National Athem (2002), Russia’s National Anthem (2005)

Dyment’s Silent Revolution duels with Matlabi’s anthems down the long corridor. A small black & white TV shows a pixelated image of a turntable playing a copy of the Beatles’ Revolution, the video’s mute rendition of the song amplifies the ambiguity of the political message, We all want to change the world/ But when you talk about destruction/ Don’t you know you can count me out in. It also focuses our attention on the revolutions of Revolution, this reduction encapsulates the legacy of inefficacy of those utopian times, We all want to… But. Out in, in out, we make but a brief appearance along the infinite line. Untitled (Help), the title brackets the plea, and so does the Braille, which, even if we could read it, is not accessible to our fingertips. Only our memory is able to hear …Help me, get my feet back on the ground… the mute image thereby sounds through the percipient, the turntable is now in your head. White Noise is a kind of additive palimpsest and another entry into the subset of artists (alongside Christian Marclay and Martin Tétreault) working with The Beatles who pay particular attention to The White Album. Given White Noise, Richard Hamilton’s white monochrome cover, which he viewed as “so pure and reticent,”[5] could also be considered as a blur or cloud (Saussure: “In itself, thought is like a swirling cloud, where no shape is intrinsically determinate. No ideas are established in advance, and nothing is distinct, before the introduction of linguistic structure”[6]).


DAVE DYMENT, Untitled (Help) (2004), Silent Revolution (2003), White Noise (2005)

Untitled (Help) (2004)

The building blocks of language align the far end wall of the gallery in USSA’s installation blank_verse, the cards are waiting for you to transpose the cloud into intelligible sequences, language is ready to be acquired. The title of the player-recorder, the Language Master, hints that this acquisition is not without stakes. The switch which toggles between a ‘student’ and an ‘instructor’ mode is emblematic of the power dimension imbedded in the very structure of language. USSA [7] presents these charged components in a kind of blank slate, as an arrangement ready for play rather than mastery, open to versification over indoctrination. The Language Player then, with cards where the magnetic strips can be subjected to a DJ-style scratching. Perhaps, by the end of the exhibition, an Esperanto of noise or an aleatory anthem will have amassed on these cards, no longer blank, but dense with the contributions of participating viewers.



USSA, blank_verse (2005)

“For me the formation of thought is already a sculpture,”[8] via Beuys’ enigmatic assertion we return to the swirling cloud. A nebulous sculpture? Certainly contemporary sculpture is now rarely monolithic and more often provisional and relational, even ethereal. Beuys’ notion of social sculpture should be kept in mind as we consider Matt Rogalsky’s Ellipsis. An ellipse … a space in the line, a movement of silence within a line of text. It is not just a space, but a marked one, one defined by its inbetweeness, a fault line (def. of a geometrical ellipse is to fall short of a perfect circle). Ellipsis extracts the inbetweens of words from the realtime feed of a radio station; Rogalsky views this intervention as obtaining “all the ‘scenery’ with none of the actors.”[9] Thus, ambience is foregrounded, the spaces that surround utterances are amplified to be heard—could Ellipsisenable a listening to thought? With this installation, heretofore silent silences are heard, Cage: “silence is not silent—it is full of activity.”[10] In other words, a full silence, in contradistinction with the customary equation of silence with emptiness. Ellipsis hollows (sculpts) out radio’s programming to reveal a certain corporeality of the air, it is now weighted—as evidenced by the projection of the cumulative counter. Ordinarily, radio silence, ‘dead air’, is eschewed by radio programmers, often its accidental occurence triggers a recording to ‘fill’ the space. Ellipsis demonstrates that dead air is always being broadcast, and the airwaves themselves are already full.


MATT ROGALSKY, Ellipsis (2001)

“A good way of taking some control of things,”[11] is one of the attributes of Ellipsis according to Rogalsky, in Diane Morin’s Effondrements (translatable as ‘collapses’ or ‘breakdowns’) we also face issues of control, and of things. With Effondrements, we are tempted to fill-in the bare narrative threads of the video and imagine acts of terrorism on domestic objects or the repeated staging of the magic of appearance. Both scenarios can coexist for the piece shares Trinh T. Minh-Ha‘s eschatological bent:

SILENCES are holes in the sound wall/SOUNDS are bubbles on the surface of silence. Sound like silence is both opening and filling/concave and convex/life and death. Sound like silence may freeze or free the image. In many civilizations, definitions of music and silence are interchangeable. Music is life. But entering into LIFE is also entering into the DEATH process.[12]

The sudden animation of these quotidian objects, thanks to the whimsy of explosions which falter and fail, enables the objects to emerge out of a “shadow darker than the shadow of night.”[13] The stark contrast provides the intertwine that Min-Ha alludes to, the fuses whistle through the dichotomies and unearths the inherent paradoxes. Each object is the host to an event which sounds the silence and illuminates the pitch blackness. Each becomes moments, momentous and momentary.


DIANE MORIN, Effondrements (2000-2005)

Dis quiet, not another. The prefix dis- denotes difference, separation, defect—dis- orient, quiet, arm, ease, comfort, agreement. Plus concoctions conjured for the occasion: discode, discipher, disarrange, disambulate. Disturbances in the quietude of accepted notions. This quiet is far from silent, but close to silence. It points towards that infinite line where we make but a brief appearance. Out in, in out, we are here for now.

 

FOOTNOTES

1. Blaise Pascal, Pensées, trans. Roger Ariew, Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett, 2005, 64 [S233/L201].

2. William S. Burroughs, The Ticket That Exploded, New York: Grove Press, 1962, 49. [9] Emphasis added.

3. Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man, New York: Vintage 1995 [1947], 8-9.

4. Jorge Luis Borges, “Death and the Compass” in Labyrinths, New York: New Directions, 1964, 87.

5. Richard Hamilton in “The Variety of Din” by Russell Ferguson, Christian Marclay, UCLA Hammer Museum, 2003, 31.

6. Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics, trans. Roy Harris. La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1986, 110.

7. It should be noted that USSA functions as both an acronym and an abbreviation, the first a contraction of the acronyms for the two superpowers (USA and USSR) during the Cold War and the latter is a nod to Russian composer Vladimir Ussachevsky (1911-1990) one of the pioneers of tape music.

8. Joseph Beuys in Six Years: The dematerialization of the art object from 1966 to 1972 by Lucy R. Lippard, University of California Press, 1997 [1973], 122.

9. Matt Rogalsky quoted in “Matt Rogalsky: Silent Resistance” by Julian Cowley, The Wire No. 239 January 2004, 12. Rogalsky makes this statement with respect to how his piece affects radio dramas but I would contend the observation can be generalized.

10 . John Cage in “A White Cage Inside Four Walls” by Michele Porzio, Musicworks 52, Spring 1992, 29.

11. Rogalsky, 12.

12. Trinh T. Minh-Ha, “Holes in the Sound Wall” in When the Moon Waxes Red, Routledge, 1995, 203.

13. Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, New York: Norton, 1971, 75.

 

ORIGINAL CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS:

Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre is seeking works investigating the notion of silence as a disturbance. Silence, as charged rather than neutral. Silence in the context of peril, conflict, disquietude. The relationship between the silencer and the silenced-to shut, to mute, to muzzle, to censor. Silence is both a break, a caesura, and a constant, a continuity. Its volume can be louder than words, its infinitude can be both repressive and liberatory. It can be either a product of enforcement or a tactic of resistance. I would prefer not to. It can also be that momentary lull before an outbreak of laughter; the portentous seriousness of silence can be shifted to aspects of play. A quiet state can be both prelude and postscript to a panoply of events: farcical, absurd, traumatic, quotidian, mediatized, global, intimate, sensorial, political, etc. Disquiet is disturbed silence. Silence under tension. Disquiet marks silence as a palpable presence.

Disquiet is initiated by Modern Fuel as part of an entire programming season dedicated to the theme of Silence. This theme enfolds multiple political subtexts-silence as systemic racism, unspoken power over another; conversely, silence conjures up more explicit interpretations such as one-minute-of-silence as remembrance or as speechlessness. Equally, silence speaks to, and of, its antithesis: voice, protest, resistance, song. Silence and speech cannot be categorized as simply bad and good, respectively or vice-versa, but are located on a dimensional continuum where various degrees of communication are possible. Disquiet fits into and interacts with this continuum.

Disquiet is open to all disciplines.