An exhibition investigating sound art, curated by Ed Baxter, Gone with the Wind pays tribute to the pioneering work of Max Eastley, Takehisa Kosugi, and Walter Marchetti. Despite its overplayed title (here, alluding to one of Eastley’s sound installation employing nature’s forces of wind), the group show offers a compelling selection of recent and historical pieces, as well as Resonance104.4fm live broadcasts from the gallery. Installed on different floors in Raven Row’s succession of rooms (closed doors provide for a natural sound-isolation to some of the pieces) intimate spaces are created in which moments of listening and imagining are foregrounded.
Among the discrete works selected, Eastley’s enigmatic sound sculptures, which give way to the gradual immersion into a sonic universe, are composed of simple yet sophisticated engineered objects. In part kinetic, these incorporate a picture plane on which fragile metal threads are animated through magnetic forces, ‘sketching’ graphical compositions of grating and whistling sounds on a white surface. While formally harmonizing with the 18th century interior in which they are presented, there is a haunting element to these works. Taken as a whole, Eastley’s delicate work (and graphic scores) contrasts most strongly with the overload and overlapping of recorded sounds in ‘Resonance Open’, a group show within the exhibition, featuring work by younger artists on the gallery’s top floor. One of the most evocative works in the exhibition, Marchetti’s two imposing pianos from his series Musica da camera n° 182 (1989/2011) and n° 211 (1999/2011) are presented in distinct and silent rooms. An unobtrusive passage leads from one piano, covered with small bright lightbulbs to the next, simply composed of toilet paper rolls in the shape of the instrument. In these chamber music pieces, sound is a subordinated element, one to be imagined (in musical terminology, ‘piano’ is associated with ‘soft’ and ‘quiet’ tones). Furthermore, Musica da camera brings to mind Joseph Beuys’ Plight (1985) in which sound seems to be stifled through the many felt rolls surrounding a piano.
The exhibition’s strength lies in the selection and staging of the artist’s works, such as Takehisa Kosugi’s varied pieces. The presentation alternates between installation and surrounding documentation which informs the works not only historically, composed of diverse texts, photographies, etc. yet also formally, as prolonged pauses to the exhibition’s event-based theme. As such, an important part of Marchetti’s work is accounted for through selected archival documentation of ZAJ, an avant-gardist group he founded in 1964 together with Juan Hidalgo and Ramón Barce in Spain. The programs, mailings and invitation cards hint at the poetics at play in their action-music performances, such as Concierte Postal, Festival ZAJ (November – December 1965) which took place in Madrid or Juan Hidalgo’s Sonata en tres tiempos (1966) in which the temporal dimension, an important element for the group, is further emphasized.ZAJ’s base in Spain, seemingly unaffected by censorship or auto-censorship during Franco’s dictatorship, offered an alternative history. Arguably, many of the event-based works did not receive the attention they deserve. In this respect, it is all the more important for these ephemeral works to be accounted for. An exhibition dedicated to one of Spain’s most important avant-garde festivals of the time, The Pamplona Encounters (Encuentros de Pamplona) 1972 is equally noteworthy here, organized by Madrid’s Museo Reina Sofia Centro de Arte (October 28, 2009 – February 22, 2010). The one-week festival brought together over 350 artists including Concierto ZAJ, Juan Hidalgo, Walter Marchetti, Dennis Oppenheim, as well as John Cage, whose far-reaching influence informs the exhibition as a whole.
As part of its program of live events, Esther Ferrer’s performances embrace chance and transformation through the direct encounters with the audience in a given space and time. Ferrer joined ZAJ in 1967 as another permanent member. In today’s discourse-driven art world, Ferrer’s Arte de performance theoria y practica (2001) questions not only the very definitions of performance, but also discourse in itself. Her invented language, accentuated through gestures and intonation nevertheless includes distinguishable keywords and names. If understood as a sound piece, the seemingly absurd discourse points to a very personal definition of performance, into which Ferrer integrates examples, using everyday objects or – as she prefers – simply her body. For Ferrer, performance art cannot be taught, it has to be practiced. As such, Gone with the Wind re-articulates the very experience of viewing and listening.