I went to see the show by Christian Marclay at White Cube, Bermondsey, at the weekend. It’s good fun, especially if you catch one of the live (musical) performances being recorded onto vinyl by The Vinyl Factory: a visual/auditory mashup treat with a dash of nostalgia.
The show is first and foremost about the relationship between image and sound, and to explore this relationship, Marclay has played with synesthesia. In the first room, there is an immersive silent (or as I experienced it, a low level humming) musical composition called Surround Sounds, made from the animation of comic book onomatopoeic words.
I loved being able to sit or lie down on a carpeted floor and engage individually (in child-like wonder) in a collective experience without any hint of self-consciousness. I found it was almost impossible not to start shouting out the words and sounds as they zapped towards us, thudded to the ground, cracked into pieces or filled the room with a very ‘loud’ shhhhhh. It was like your body taking over, short circuiting the eye – thinking – adult behaviour pattern to replace it with something much more spontaneous.
As well as Surround Sounds, there are a couple of rooms of onomatopoeic paintings (that I found less engaging) and a series of works relating to boozing. These include 1000 glasses displayed on a bar-height shelf around the main gallery, the Pub Crawl projection series that you walk through in the main connecting corridor (the tinkling sounds of which you can hear throughout the exhibition) and a display of scores from drinking songs made woozy by being placed behind bulls eye glass.
To be honest I’m not quite sure how the boozy bits relate to the auditory/visual bits, but in a way it didn’t really matter. Somehow the sound and sight of the glasses and feeling a little like being part of the pub-crawl when walking down the central corridor (and discombobulated by the whole experience), made it all hang together.
The really best bit though, was the staging of improvised performances. On Saturday there was a fantastic performance by Mark Sanders. He animated drums and cymbals and trays of glasses and other household objects with drum sticks and marbles and hex bugs and ping pong balls. It was gripping and lasted a full 45 minutes. I found the performance on the Sunday by Mica Levi and London Sinfonietta of contemporary electro acoustic music seemed rather pretentious by contrast, less spontaneous, less engaging and ultimately less successful (although this could well be my less trained ear – the performance on the Sunday was packed!).
The Sanders’ and Sinfonietta performances were recorded live onto vinyl, and then reproduced on site (with a VF Press housed in a seven-tonne shipping container from PVC granules) for sale, together with screen-printed covers. They can be bought from www.thevinylfactory.com
A lasting impression
After the exhibition, I went off to collect three bags of potatoes from the recently de-installed Sigma Polke exhibition at Tate Modern, for a North Wales artist friend (Julie Gritten). On the way, the sounds and potential sounds of everyday objects struck me a way that I hadn’t experienced before. The effect reminded me of the horror film, Rubber, in which a tyre goes on a killing spree. After watching the film, I found I was looking at everyday objects as if they had a character, or at least, ready for them to surprise me. It’s things like this that change how we experience the world.
Marclay’s show is on at White Cube Bermondsey until 12th April.