Tag Archives: Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces

Sound Work

21:100:100 is an exhibition at Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces of  “100 sound works by 100 artists from the 21st Century” curated by Alexie Glass, Emily Cormack, Marco Fusinato and Oren Ambarchi. The opening of the exhibition on the first hot Saturday night of the summer was well attended. And unlike other gallery openings where talking and drinking are the main priority there was a lot attention paid to the art. Most of the crowd was listening to the works on the 100 headphones.

But why was this exhibition on at a “contemporary art space” rather than a music venue? When John Cage raised the consciousness of music composition from theory to philosophy by asking not how to compose music but what is music? Music became part of contemporary art.

This is does not describes the music that sprang from asking the question – what is music. 21:100:100 is an excellent survey of the range of musical directions in contemporary art that have developed since John Cage expanded our understanding of music. 21:100:100 includes works that range from hi-tech to lo-fi. From pure electronic, to samples, to ambient soundscapes. Music from arty rock bands like Chicks on Speed and Sonic Youth. From extreme music genres like ‘sludge metal”, “free jazz” and “free folk”. Music played on unique and invented instruments, like 50 foot long wires or glass harmoniums. Music from performance art, including the soundtrack from Christian Marclay. 2000, 14 minute video, “Guitar Drag but the video is much better. From around the world the curators have not left an acoustic record unturned to put together this out-standing exhibition.

100 didactic panels along with the 100 headphones were carefully arranged the ultraviolet lit gallery space. The didactic panels were all clear and well written – a major achievement in itself for the curators.

Although the exhibition title says “artists from the 21st Century” this does include artists, like Melbourne’s Philip Brophy or the American industrial musician Z’ev, who were making music long before the 21st Century. Brophy’s “Fluorescent” is one of the most pop, fun and catchy pieces in the exhibition.

While writing this review I was listing to X-X section (Extreme XCD 010) Various Artists on the Extreme label. At least one of these artists on this compilation, Merzbow, was in the exhibition but there could have been more. Extreme is a Melbourne label that distributes many extreme musicians.


Guitar God

Upstairs, above Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, there are a lot of studios.  In Studio 12 Matthew Shannon was showing an installation: Infinity of Wind Muskets.

So there I am, alone standing in the doorway of the studio looking at a neatly written and beautifully presented and framed play list. When I was in a band a play list was written on a scrap of paper and gaffer taped somewhere. Matthew Shannon’s play list looked heavy on heavy metal but further down the list there was a few of my favorites – Bowie, Eno, Jesus and Mary Chain.

In the centre of the room on a small podium or plinth was an electric guitar. The podium was splashed with white paint reminding me of the film of Pattie Smith painting a television with white paint that I had just seen at the Centre for Contemporary Photography.

Surrounding the guitar, hung from the ceiling in odd positions were some flashing floodlights. Some of them were flashing but mostly the room was dark. This is because some of the lights were not on. I wondered if the installation was interactive and if the guitar was plugged into an amplifier somewhere. I decided to approach the guitar and then to tap on the strings.

Is Shannon tempting the viewer with the bright lights and the guitar? What more could we want than to be a guitar hero? The ecstatic shamanic performance of the guitar-hero is a step to deification. Rock’n’roll is the new religion and art must portray what is holy to us.

I plucked on the E string and watched the lights flash with greater intensity. The intense flashing lights were beginning to hurt my eyes but I persisted. The more I plucked at the strings the more lights came on. I considered picking the guitar up off its stand and playing one of the songs from the play list. Should I take over Shannon’s installation with my own rockin’ performance? Would all the lights flash as I struck a power-cord. But can’t play guitar – I play keyboards.

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