Saturday, August 17 Sign Waves, a project dedicated to sound and site specific installations opened its phase II at Toronto Island, located in front of the city harbor.
The series was conceived as a two phases project: Phase I ran from June 28 to July 6, and took place at the Art System gallery Downtown Toronto, while phase II was launched at the chemistry building in the Water Filtration Plant, an old, suggestive, industrial site.
Although exhibited in two completely different contexts, phase I and phase II asked similar questions: what effects are achieved when the sound is inserted in the context of an installation rather than being performed? What is the role of the audience? Is she affecting the work? How are the visual-aural aspects integrated? And finally, what role does the surrounding environment play?
The two exhibitions clearly integrated both the visual and aural aspects of the installations and tried to produce a double interaction with the participants on one hand and with the surrounding space on the other. The diverse nature of the venues not only showed how the approach of the audience transformed according to the environment, but also how the artists managed to adapt their works to each occasion.
The exhibition at Art System featured two installations by artists and musicians Nicholas Langstaff and David Eagle.
Langstaff’s ‘I project’ was conceived to explore the concepts of actual and presented identity. The installation started before the visitor entered the room where the work was physically located. One could hear some unintelligible voices, as if a crowd dialoguing in a public space was to be discovered behind the black curtains at the entrance of the main gallery. As soon as the participant was introduced in the room, she would discover that the voices were not coming from human beings, but rather from several speakers hanging from the ceiling two by two one in front of the other. A mirror had been placed below each speaker, so that a conversation between them was simulated. In order to hear each conversation (usually focussing on ideas of identity), the viewer was invited to stand between the two mirrors, and to watch her image while trying to listen. She automatically became a witness and a participant in the conversation, while she was forced to reflect upon her own image on the mirror. The conversation was soon transformed into an introspective and, sometimes, embarrassing confrontation of the observer with her personal context.
Installed in the small room of the gallery, ‘Paths’recreated the experience of exploring a natural environment. According to Eagle, when ‘we walk along a path and listen, we do not expect a contrived climax to arrive, rather we experience and immerse ourselves in the environment.’ His sound installation was composed of eight speakers arranged in circle around the listeners. Because of this arrangement, the sound’s flow didn’t have any beginning, middle or end. It recreated an immersive atmosphere similar to the way the participant would experience a sound walk. Thanks to MAX, a program able to create interactive sounds, the artist designed an interface which allowed him to process the sounds in real time. While performing, he engaged in a dialogue both with the public, who was invited to ask questions and express suggestions, and the interface, which was often responding with textures randomly generated.
The gallery context contributed to isolate the two installations, since they were displayed in two separate rooms so that any overlapping of the sounds was prevented. Instead, the location chosen for phase II allowed an intense dialogue between four artwork, thanks to the special open space provided by the chemistry building (the absence of doors) and the integration of the external space with the internal rooms. The four installations proposed for this second exhibition in fact enacted a complex series of interactions not only among each others, but also with the public, with the building itself and with the outside environment, as to create a single symphony. The sound sculpture ‘distributed resonance’ by Bentley Jarvis, composed by different length pipes emitting synchronized sounds, could be explored in several ways by approaching one’s ear to each single component, by listening to the whole ensemble of sounds or by comparing them to the sounds which could be heard coming from Vivienne Spiteri and Rob Godman’s ‘Inside the eye of silence.’ This second piece, officially located on the second floor, in reality could be experienced in every room. The installation used the entire building to transform the sound of an harpsichord as it was processed by the computer and passed echoing through eight rooms and as many speakers. The participants could explore the empty rooms and evaluate how the same sound was modified by the location and the position of the speakers in the space. Darren Copeland’s ‘reservoir’ acted as a connector between the building and the underground reservoirs of the water filtration plant in front of the building. A microphone positioned in a room allowed the visitors to input sounds into an acoustic feedback circuit. The circuit channeled their vocalizations from the building to the resonating wells of the unseen water reservoir and then back to the building which has its own resonance.
The manhole covers of the reservoir had been painted in different colors by artists Michael Davey and Delwyn Higgins. The choice of colors followed a Dada-like random operation (colored round shapes from a punch had been chosen randomly and then pasted on a technical map of the filtration plant) which, at the same time, reprehended the unexpected reactions produced by the members of the audience, who freely interacted with the environment by producing their own sounds, improvising distance dialogues using the microphones located in the well and in the house, or playing their own instruments.
For more information about artists and projects: