For his first show in New York since his solo exhibition at the New Museum in 2016, Anri Sala presents two new major installations at Marian Goodman Gallery that continue his interest in utilizing sound and music to question experience.
Originally shown as a special project in Sydney, Australia for the Kaldor Public Arts Projects in October 2017, The Last Resort is an immense and immersive 42-channel sound installation made up of 38 snare drums which hang, like bats, from the ceiling. Inside each drum are two speakers, one which emits low-frequency sound that vibrates the skin of the drums and causes the sticks to move, and the other which plays an altered version of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major. The viewer’s perspective of the sound is skewed, since in this case we are underneath the orchestra as opposed to facing or being above it. Depending upon position, one hears a certain section of the orchestra. In this way a geography of sound is created, lending a sculptural quality to a normally ephemeral medium.
There is a conceptual complexity to The Last Resort not immediately sensed whilst first experiencing the impressive installation. The impetus for the work begins with Sala’s interest in the Age of Enlightenment. Mozart wrote this concerto very close to his death in 1791 and just prior to the colonization of the English in Australia. It was originally written to celebrate the Age of Enlightenment and what was then a fairly new woodwind instrument— the clarinet. The spate of intellectual ideals and freedoms during this time was not, in practice, actually a means of progress for all people. And so, Sala, combined his interest in the idea of corruption as a physiological thing with the wonder of what would happen to Mozart’s piece if it were to make a long journey over rough seas. Sala worked with professional musicians to alter the tempos of the original concerto, following the weather patterns which were noted in the personal diary of James Bell, who traveled from London to Adelaide in 1838. Each entry’s first sentence has to do with the wind: light breeze, gust of wind, hurricane, etc. Sala created an architecture of the notes, composing a pattern for each iteration of wind. The result is a concerto altered and eroded by the natural phenomenon that is the wind and the weather; a concerto not in the original form its illustrious creator meant for it.
If and Only If (2018), is a new video installation on view in the southern end of the gallery and involves a different kind of journey— that of a snail slowly traversing a viola’s bow. The film features professional French violinist, Gérard Caussé playing Igor Stravinsky’s Elegy for Solo Viola. Depending on the subtle movement of the snail, Caussé must pause or balance his bow differently as even the slightest weight can alter the sound being played. The slow dialogue between Caussé and the snail resulted in the Elegy being played to almost double its usual time. A two-channel installation, one of the films is projected onto a translucent, thin screen placed in front of the other projection. Though the two are almost identical, there are subtle shifts in angle or in focus that occur between them. The way in which it has been installed emphasizes the relationship and the delicate balancing act between the snail and the musician.
Separating the two major pieces is a smaller gallery with a couple of sculptural works set upon plinths in a dimly lit room. The sculptures are made from French 18th century wooden plates used for printing textiles. In each Sala has drilled down into the plates in the shapes of the snail and the bow uncovering the various layers of wood in different colors and grains. They are meant to serve as a fossil in the same way in which a film still can be considered a fossil—both are the physical incarnation of a performative act.
Sala’s show is a reminder to accept the element of uncertainty in nature versus man’s aspirations; a journey, of any scope and scale, is normally met with unpredictable circumstances, for better or for worse. The works convey the sense of the interconnection of all things in a balancing act between what can and cannot be controlled.
Anri Sala is up through April 14th
— A. Marchak
Marian Goodman [Exhibition Page]