"Voice & Void" in Connecticut

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Within the curatorial program of the Aldrich Contemporary Museum in Ridgeield, Connecticut, Thomas Trummer introduced an exhibition entitled "VOICE & VOID." He began with the premise that while you can close your eyes, you can't close your ears. Unlike visual art, sound doesn't have borders or frames, but fills a given space, assuming it's shape. Even when we're not listening to something, we hear the echoes of our thoughts which are resonating in the space of our body and our soul. Trummer wonders whether, and if so, where absolute silence exists. VOICE & VOID tries to find visual equivalents to such a aural void.

In the catalog, Trummer expresses his thoughts on the always ambiguous Greek myth of Echo and Narcissus. Echo, whom nobody can see, is a bodiless "acoustic mirror" who can only exist as a voice reflecting the other. On the other hand, Narcissus, although visible, cannot enter into a relationship with another because he is unable to resonate with anybody (but himself). So, Trummer perceives how these two mythical figures remain in a closed circle of their incompleteness, drifting in an orbit of their unfulfilled desires.

In one of the conversations occasioned by the opening of the exhibition, Trummer undertakes the questions of the role of voice. In the world of visual clutter, doesn't voice prove to be a better vehicle for personal contact and intimacy? Why is voice more credible and reassuring? Isn't it more a proof of life and truth than an image?

Trummer approached this exhibition with a large dose of poetic curiosity to find interesting examples of work realized primarily by european artists. As a result, he presented a highly intriguing selection of work by several authors: Rachel Berwick, Joseph Beuys/Ute Klophous, John Cage, Janet Cardiff i George Bures Miller, VALIE EXPORT, Anna Gaskell, Asta Groting, Christian Marclay, Melik Ohanian, Hans Schabus, Nedko Solakov, Julianne Swartz and Cerith Wyn Evans.

One group of works presented here is the documentation of, by now historical, actions and performances which refer to the meaning of sound or it's absence. For example: the photographic documentation of Joseph Beuys' performance "How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare" taken by Ute Klophous in 1965. Another is John Cage's "Lecture on Nothing (Silence)" 1965, a typewritten script with handwritten notes in crayon and pencil, a visually disarming piece. From VALLE EXPORT sketches done in 1969 were chosen, drawings for never realized films, which the author called "Tonfilm" meaning "Soundfilm", and exposing man's loud voice clamoring over women's.

This part of "Voice and Void", although visually attractive, was rather academic and to be appreciated fully required close reading of the museum's wall labels.

From the newer work there are three silkscreen paintings by Christian Marclay: "White Door", "Gold Door", and "Double Door" (2006) from the series "The Electric Chair", showing the enlarged image of a door to an execution chamber with a sign "SILENCE" on it. Marclay used a fragment of the same photographic source Andy Warhol used in his work of the same title in 1965. The paintings are realized in the same esthetic characteristic of Warhol's "painted design" and therefore are an unhidden continuation of the earlier concept. Anna Gaskell's black and white photographs of 1995 show the face of the artist in various stages of facial transformations reaching an extreme grimace which, due to lack of sound, could only be explained by the title, "Sneezing."

More immediately engaging were the works with sound. I was strongly drawn to the work of Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, "Opera for Small Room 2005"; an unfinished room within a gallery into which you could peek through window-like cutouts. The interior, filled with a dense clutter of accumulated details from an undefined period of time or place, in it's theatricality, resembles assemblages of Edward Kienholz or early installations of Ilya Kabokav: ancient radios, several record players, old books and magazines, shelves heavy with records, some broken lamps, a few speakers and dismembered equipment of all sorts. But what really triggered memories and could lead viewers to a dreamy trance was the sound, the essential component of the installation and most characteristic of the collaboration of these two artists. The melange of the sounds and noises was imprinted into that very room: fragments of radio programs, slices of music, murmuring, shuffling footsteps. The aural presence of those voices grew organically into this space and became a natural and inseparable part of it. The atmosphere built by the sound echoes Beckett's play "Krapp's Last Tape" and the climates of David Lynch's films. The sound of trains running close by every now and then shakes the crystal chandelier into a quiet shivering while viewers leave the room as if hypnotized.

Another interesting installation presented by Rachel Berwick was "may-por-e', " a work started in 1997. A wide cylinder of an aviary built from semi matte translucent scrim with light inside formed a projection screen, which viewers could look at while walking around it. What was happening inside of the aviary was projected onto the screen. Viewers could watch the shadows of picturesque scenes of tropical plants and two parrots flying around. We could also hear the birds talking to each other in a strange language. It was the language of a long extinct amazonian tribe from Venezuela. Again, there is a surprising situation: what we see is a sweet looking projection of exotic shadows - pretty and slightly banal - but what moves us sincerely is the sound of the parrots' voices, communicating crumbs of the truth of a forgotten culture of a long-gone tribe. Without hesitation we believe in it's authenticity. At the side of the installation, there is detailed information explaining how the parrots were taught what people who studied this phenomenon learned from older parrots.

There also is an interesting piece by Julian Swartz entitled "Open 2007," a small object, easy to overlook because of it's placement in a narrow hallway of the museum . A simple looking closed wooden box. When opened, as instructed by the title, a low voice emerged repeating "I love you." You had to bend and put your head near the box to hear it. The longer the box was open, the louder the voice coming out became. Within a few minutes it reached a level of an imposing, aggressive, annoying voice yelling :"I LOVE YOU!" What was hidden became obvious; intimate, public. The viewer would close the box, somehow embarrassed, and leave the room cringing.

A two screen slide projection by Melik Ohanian, "Zona del Silencio (Zone of silence) 2007," caused a surprising reaction. On one screen was a repeating image of a desert landscape in Mexico with a vertical cyclone-like sandy tube outlining enigmatic territory. On the other screen was regularly changing texts relating to the desert. As it turns out, the author, primarily interested in recording sound, stumbled across a zone where horizontal waves don't exist. In such a void, recording sound is impossible. Strange legends circulate there about events in the region. Supposedly, in the '70's an American missile crashed there, unable to read the radar guidance signals broadcast by NASA . Ohanian talks about the electromagnetic situation in this region resembling that of the North Pole. Could it be that a meteor crashed into our planet some long time ago and changed it's axis? He also mentions that he heard some stories of OFOs there. Nevertheless, the situation in the museum was such that the projection of the beautiful landscape was accompanied by written short stories and the only audible sound was the rhythmic clicking of the slides changing in the carousel.

The Aldrich Contemporary Museum created the Hall Curatorial Fellowship for european curators to introduce an european outlook and new energy into the blood circulation of an american museum. Austrian born Thomas Trummer is the first curator to realize an exhibition in this program. VOICE & VOID fully fulfilled the expectations of the museum and injected a subtle breeze of fresh air to Ridgefield, Connecticut (only an hour and a half by car from New York City) and promises good forecasts for more exhibitions widening the museum's perspectives.

VOICE & VOID, Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, 258 Main Street, Ridgefield, Connecticut, September 16 trough to February 24, 2008.