Volume: Hear Here


Group exhibition curated for the Blackwood Gallery and the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery (now called the Art Museum at the University of Toronto).

January 16 – March 10, 2013

Featured at the BLACKWOOD GALLERY:

Dave Dyment, Alexis O’Hara, Darsha Hewitt, John Oswald, Ian Skedd, Charles Stankievech.


Mitchell Akiyama, crys cole, Marla Hlady, Neil Klassen, David Lieberman, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Sylvia Matas,
David Merritt, Ryan Park, Juliana Pivato, Alexandre St-Onge, Chiyoko Szlavnics, John Wynne.

Photo credit: Toni Hafkenscheid

From the utterance stems the establishment of the category of the present, and from the category of the present is born the category of time. The present is precisely the source of time. It is that presence in the world that only the speech act makes possible, since (if we reflect on this) man has no other way of living “now” at his disposition besides the possibility to realize it through the insertion of discourse in the world.(1)
– Émile Benveniste

Volume: Hear Here is conceived around the vexed question of presence in its entwine with absence—the da of dasein. An ontological discussion considered through the tenuous objecthood, but resolute materiality of sonic phenomena. Benveniste’s epigraph gives primacy to the speech act, here the intent is to supplant it with the sound act. The event of language taking place in time is replaced by sound as infiltrator, enveloper, occupier of both time and space. This is a moment akin to Tony Smith’s famed conclusion following his experience of driving on an unfinished and unmarked portion of the New Jersey Turnpike: “There is no way you can frame it, you just have to experience it.”(2) The incompleteness which is a corollary of the decision to dwell on unframed experience is what Michael Fried in “Art of Objecthood” so vehemently resisted and is the condition of possibility of this exhibition project. Returning to the epigraph, the other bias it foregrounds is the role of discourse which also performs a framing function. There is a desire in the twenty-four works by nineteen artists assembled here, however temporary and fraught the exercise of this desire might be, to go beyond meaning, beyond interpretation. Why this desire to seemingly bypass the straight path to knowledge? Hans-Georg Gadamer spoke of a poem speaking not only through a “meaning intention” but that simultaneously a “truth lies in its performance.”(3) Serendipitously, he dubbed this dimension volumen.

Following Gadamer’s notion, the volumes at play here are not measurable or quantifiable, they are “sung” by the artists and mixed by the curator.(4) In a gallery context which Daniel Buren said “flattens”(5) the artwork and which Robert Morris describes as “antispatial or nonspatial,”(6) the fixity and rigidity of the gallery (non)space is interrupted by a playful sound(song)track. This is not to assert that all the works presented here sing by producing actual sound, but certainly in an expanded sense, they can all be heard. The following synoptic list gives an idea of the range: A skull turntable, a turning bass floor, a paper bag breath, a graphited silence, a speaker igloo, drawings of the here and now, moiré pattern compositions, an amplified sweeping, a murmuring, a pair of feedback headphones, a wall in the middle of nowhere, a tarred instrument, a song unsung, a cryptic monster music video, a box of hearing aids of the ocean, a set of bells triggered by television static, a sign language choir, a tale of acoustic architecture, a bookwork tracking sonic movement, a cluster of ultra-sonic pest control devices, and a wireless headphone for head and mind.

In the same text mentioned above, Morris establishes a distinction to his model of presentness between a “real-time ‘I’ and a reconstituting ‘me’.”(7) The recurrent cleavage between the moment and its passing, the present and its absence, the immediate and its mediation, the I and its other, animates a profusion of theoretical debates from varied philosophical traditions. How does sound inform or deform (informe) the discussion? Can an exhibition, focused on sound and foregrounding its play at display, propel the question to a position heretofore unheard? To synchronously stage here and un-here, to place and dis-place, to orient and dis-orient, albeit momentarily or even instantaneously, may be the most we can expect.(8)

Corresponding to the poetic instant that Gaston Bachelard says occurs on a “vertical” axis of time, the sound art object performs a peculiar song whose duration does not flow, rather it is sudden and discontinuous.(9) In other words, the collective song played by the disparate chorus of assembled artworks, is resolutely abrupt, staccato, improvised. As part of the manifestation of this instant, Bachelard includes the “harmonious relation of two opposites” which create a “dynamic, excited, and active ambivalence.”(10) So, the instant is by no means simple or singular, it is vexed. Is the instant here? Is it here as you read this, or there as you visit the galleries? The instant is not synonymous with the present, but occurs within it.

According to Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht there is “a tension or oscillation between a meaning culture and a presence culture” where the former overwhelms or silences the latter.(11) Hear Here (a sonic progeny of différance)(12) attempts to stay stuck in its presence mode, and sound may be the apt sensorial mode for such wanton disregard for an interpretable product, for as Morton Feldman declared “sound does not know its history.”(13) Thus, the repeat button contains an amnesiac function, the play simultaneously erases. Sound in this mode does not construct a time, it foregoes memory. However tempting this line of argument which appears to privilege presentness may be, it is chimerical. But this trap is instructive for it is where the recurrent paradoxical twinned desire for and dismissal of presence (material, body) paired with distrust of and dependence on meaning (logos, reason) find their stage.

Each work in Volume functions as a stage, in some cases literally, in others metaphorically or conceptually. The concomitant reception (hear) and presence (here) require volume to act, to activate and be activated—the feedback of poetics. The stage here is present(ed) as the ground zero for a sound event. But as alluded earlier, the sound event may not produce actual sound, it may only reference it. In the latter mode, the possibility of resonance arises. Martin Seel characterizes resonance as “an occurrence without something occurring” and as such it enables a “forming beyond the formation of forms.”(14) For resonance to occur and provisionally materialize, an a priori condition must be met, a constant, a base state is required. The formless forms, including silence (sound’s rhythmic foil), emerge out of a plural or hyphenated space, a space beyond space, a performative space. A voiced space, a sung space, in other words, a volumen, a volume.

– Christof Migone, Director/Curator of the Blackwood Gallery