An art gallery functions as a temple of sorts - a place where visitors
can take in art in an almost sacred setting. Traditionally this has
been reserved for visual art. People come to look. Sound, if there
is any to be heard beyond the din of hobnobbing art patrons, comes
in the form of installations equipped with accompanying noise, or
perhaps from a DJ tucked away in a corner playing an ambient, but
danceable soundtrack for the hipster set.
With the "Sacred and Profane" curators Liz Copeland and
Clark Warner set to turn that dynamic on its ear. For the exhibition,
sounds leap out from the background - the audio will replace the visual
and stand solely on its own. The exhibition is about finding a "purity"
of exploring sound as a medium, Copeland explains. "This exhibit
will be very purist in its presentation - displaying no visuals on
the walls -allowing the listeners to fully experience and interact
with the piece."
The curators are no strangers to the realm of sonic art. Copeland
is of course best known for being the award-winning overnight DJ since
1995 on WDET FM 101.9, while Warner
is known as both a producer and a DJ. The two have collaborated in
the past as co-hosts of Focus: Electronic on WDET, as well as their
monthly musical adventure "Stylus."
Aaron Timlin, executive director of the Detroit Artists Market, approached
the pair to guest-curate a show centered around sound. They accepted
the challenge as a way to express their desire that sound be taken
as seriously as visual art and satisfy their curiosity as to what
sound is like in its own setting.
Copeland described the title as being a challenge to the listener,
and that each listener will bring a different interpretation to the
work. "Sacred and Profane" sums up the spectrum of potential
responses to the idea of sound being treated in this manner. "To
some people, the idea of putting sound in a gallery might be absurd,
while for others this exhibition will be something that is long overdue."
Copeland and Warner wanted to bring an international feel to the
exhibition. They sought out sound artists who were open to experimentation
and exploring sound in a pure form, and who could imagine their sounds
being heard in a gallery. This quest produced eight sound artists
from around the globe who will all present unreleased work specifically
created for this exhibition.
The roster includes Jack Dangers, Warn Defever, Richie Hawtin, Thurston
Moore, Tadd Mullinix, DJ Olive, Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Mark Van
Hoen. (Bios and images of all the artists appear at the bottom
of this page.) These artists work with such diverse resources
as sampled and treated classical compositions, free jazz, experimental
electronics, peaceful landscapes, and noise experimentation. The assembled
group includes emerging artists like the 22 year old Mullinix alongside
long-established artists like Roedelius whose career spans four decades.
Hawtin and Defever both hail from the Detroit area which despite their
contrasting approach to making music, makes for some commonalities
as well. Copeland and Warner see this diverse group of artists as
all sharing a sense of adventure and individuality in their work.
A quick read of these musicians' bios reveals that they have gone
beyond the label of musician and arrived at place more closely associated
with the conceptual and the visual arts. They work with sound like
a visual artist works with color and tone. Hawtin's work has often
been integrated into contemporary art installations. DJ Olive has
created something he calls Vinyl Scores for the turntable. These are
essentially sound palettes he produces in the studio and then presses
on 12" vinyl. This provides a common palette for turntablists
to work in much the same way that painters work from similar color
palettes. From this common ground all create their own unique mix.
Van Hoen's approach to making sounds is described as being akin to
the process of a painter or a sculptor. Roedelius developed his art
as a pupil of the conceptual artist Josef Beuys.
With the list confirmed last fall, the curators didn't put a specific
theme to the artists beyond the setting, the technical demands of
that space, and the title of the exhibition. From that point on the
artists were free to go in whatever direction they felt made their
individual piece work. In the end, this resulted in each artist producing
different sounds, yet according to Warner, all share an element of
collage and have a "similar quality in terms of production and
structure." Each sound artist's original piece will be presented
at individual listening stations set up throughout DAM's gallery space.
Listeners will be able to tune in privately through headsets and at
one 5.1 surround sound station. The pieces vary in length from one
minute to 49 minutes.
Rather than the typical exhibition catalog, DAM will produce a limited
edition CD of the work presented in "Sacred and Profane: A Collection
of Sonic Art." The CD will feature original works by all eight
of the artists involved, the included liner notes feature musician
biographies and a statement from the curators. CDs will be on sale
during the run of the show. All proceeds from the $12 CD will benefit
the Detroit Artists Market.
While listeners can take this work home with them in CD form, Copeland
notes that listening to the work in a gallery setting is a far different
experience than in the confines of one's car or the hecticness of
one's home. Taking in the work in the gallery offers a chance at experiencing
the sounds in a state of purity.
Copeland and Warner hope that "The observer will be left with
a renewed realization of the power of the medium as art and as language."
Give your eyes a rest, and prepare your ears for a very different
aesthetic experience. - Nick Sousanis
(The show runs from May 7 through May 31. A Member's Exclusive
Reception happens May 7 from 5:30 to 7:30pm followed by a public reception
from 7:30 to 11pm.)