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Sound Chamber and Sound Track

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Prey (1999)

Like images, sound can offer a handhold and open up unexpected dimensions. In Static, the increasing and diminishing noise of a helicopter circling around the Statue of Liberty underscores the back and forth between feelings of remote distance and approaching threat. The noise of the rotor blades is not disturbing as such because it matches the changes in distance between viewer and image. The background noise of the city is overwhelmed by the ear-splitting noise of the artist’s experiment. The sound does not accompany the image like a soundtrack; it essentially enables the image. The inseparability of image and sound also applies to Drumroll, in which the oil barrel rolling along the street holds three cameras and generates its own noise. In these two works we do not just witness the distinctive camera work (from a helicopter or a rolling oil drum); we actually hear it.

Many of Steve McQueen’s works exploit the power of the sounds generated by his subject matter. Prey shows a running tape recorder producing rhythmical tapping sounds, which is subsequently lifted into the air. In Girls, Tricky, we see and hear the intense rapping of the singer Tricky during a studio recording. The sounds of rustling and breathing in Pursuit communicate the anxiety of an unseen person in a dark park. In Illuminer, we perceive the hotel room only through the presence of the light and sound coming from a TV screen. The light emitted by the TV is enough to activate the camera while the sound of the running broadcast is simultaneously inscribed in the audio track of Illuminer. Significantly, we never see the source of light and sound, the television set itself.


«Sound and music have become incredibly
important for me. There are no boundaries with
music, it can’t be enclosed. A sound travels
along a guitar string and out into space. It’s the
same with a voice.»

These dynamic and agitated films stand opposed to a more understated combination of sound and image. The personal and vivid story told by the artist’s cousin in 7th Nov., a still projection with a voice from off, can hardly be compared with hours of reading administrative documents out loud in End Credits and even less with the incomprehensible babble (glossolalia or speaking in tongues) in Once Upon a Time, but what all of these works have in common is the way the sound drifts away from the image. The soundtrack takes on an independent character that calls for greater concentration, although, once again, the visual impact of the images is crucial to these installations. The calm and yet compelling appeal of the images is set off against the agitated flow of the language.



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