November 07, 2004



Years of being confronted by tedious sound art 'installations' - question: has ANYTHING called an 'installation' ever been worthwhile? - and of 'sonic art' (pasty-faced nerds with laptops sampling and looping the sound of broken glass or 'generating sound by non-conventional means' - i.e. hitting railings with sticks) has left me more than a little sceptical about sound art.

In principle of course, there's no reason sonic art couldn't work. On the contrary in fact. But as we know now, the meaning of 'art' within the Saatchi-corrupted English bourgeois culture is 'anything that's boring, produces no affects and has no vision whatsoever', so to append the description 'art' to an object or experience is in effect to say, 'abandon all hope of interest all ye who enter here'. Or, more accurately: bring your own libido. The artist cannot be expected to stimulate you. It is your job to clothe the emperor. (Get Craner to deliver his rant on art which claims to 'negotiate ideas of...'; it's absolutely otm.)

So, somewhat unwittingly I found myself in Bruce Nauman's new sound space at Tate Modern last week with Ray (Gnostic Dark Prince of Cold Rationalism, co-organizer of the Noise Theory Noise conferences at Middlesex).

I say sound space advisedly, not just because, as I indicated above, I loathe the term 'installation' but because, for once, here was an art experience that was all to do with space. Unlike the slovenly improv tedium of the sonic art I have previously encountered, which fogs the space with a damp haze of sludgy sonic signal, Nauman's hyper-precise sound orchestration not only used the space, it was the space.

There is no 'art object' in Nauman's Raw Materials: nothing to be mastered, nothing that could be re-viewed. There is only an affective space whose properties change dependent upon the population that moves through it. The sound we, the audience, make operates as the sonic equivalent of a found object: the unpredictable and anomalous signal that interacts with twenty-two recorded voices to produce an unliving sonic collage.

Nauman's schizophony is composed not only of the twenty-two voices (which can be heard very clearly only when you stand exactly opposite the speakers from which they emerge) but of other sounds that are in every sense unplaceable, most notable amongst which was a low moan (is it mechanical or natural? an aircraft drone? the wind?)

It presents you with a good reflexivity as opposed to the boring PoMo bad reflexivity with which we are all now so over-familiar. Instead of the meta-distance from a devoid-of-affect 'work', Nauman's sonicollage gave you a praticontemplation of immanence. As a participant-hearer you find yourself unable to gain any position of transcendence over the soundspace, and only partly because you yourself are a part of it. This is an encounter with acoustic space as described by McLuhan: 360 degrees round, schizophrenically diffuse, predator-ridden and haunted.


If Nauman's show drew out some of the specific semiotic and affective features of sound, the excellent Eyes, Lies and Illusion exhibition just down the
South Bank at the Hayward does something similar for the visual.

As Baudrillard has long complained, it is the hatred for illusion, the impulse to strip away the veils of (re)presentation and confront the unadorned Real, that defines our contemporary 'transaesthetics of banality'. What Badiou calls the 'passion for the real' can be seen in everything produced by the Emin-Lucas-Hirst sensational-borocratic abstract machine, which, with a quaint naivete that is almost admirable, makes a show of disdaining the artificial.

Paradoxically, this only heightens the sense of representationalist pathos surrounding such 'work'. The op art, anamorphs and optical illusions on show at the Hayward do exactly the opposite: draw attention to the representational machines that have produced them.

Once again, there is a good reflexivity, a vertiginous sense of radical immanence much like you encounter at a certain point in most of Philip K Dick's, Burroughs' and Ligotti's most powerful stories. As you contemplate an intricately constructed illusion, you suddenly realise that the world which you are contemplating it from and the ego which is doing the contemplation are themselves illusions in what seems like an infinite series of illusions.


Gnostic revelation.

Posted by mark at November 7, 2004 12:07 PM | TrackBack

h. kpunk.
mark...sorry ..slightly off subject..but the comments boxes are rarely appearing portholes these days...but i was wondering if u could send me a way to cntct u via e mail etc. just had a few questions on possession (as you do) to ask you..

Posted by: simon at November 7, 2004 09:26 PM

as for the nauman pst...well..yeah he's been hitting it for quite some time now. couple of things that have been burned into memory (and he's one artist that really tries to explicitly install ideas in the mind more than any other i think) from past works...
one... a drawing from 68 (!) where he describes in it " a tape recorder with a tape loop of a scream wrapped inside a plastic bag and cast into the center of a block of concrete" ...i always felt suffocated...terrified when allowing this idea to resonate in my though u could really hit that moment when a volume of air enclosing the recorded scream is solidified in concrete...(think the end scene of the 80's'vanishing' acting as a singular focus for contemplation!!!)nauman really casts terror as a space in your head as opposed to occupying space formally/externally through the presentation of ideas...process in nauman really needs a litter of posts!!

Posted by: simon at November 7, 2004 09:42 PM

just one more...and u really could go on all day with the "what about this one" with nauman ...BUT...i experienced this bright commercial neon work by B.N once the dark..where a neon sign of a guy is formed (like in hangman) and his legs are on the ground/smiling face/limp flashes a change and the new image (with that switch of neon sound) has the image of a man lifting his legs up/dead face/tongue out/hard cock...the sound of a neighbouring piece of work drifts into your mind whilst u stand in front of this autoasphyxiative whispers softly...but centrally in your mind " GET OUT OF MY HEAD" ...felt like i was being scanned!

Posted by: simon at November 7, 2004 10:05 PM

Wow, sounds amazing... really glad to be introduced to Nauman.. thing is, the art world overhypes everything, it's difficult to know sometimes...

re: comments boxes, tend to leave them open now except for controversial posts (i.e. the anti-catholic ones) which will invite tedious kneejerk reaction....

email, can click on kontakt tab above, or mail directly to k_punk99[AT]

look fwd to hearing from you...

Posted by: mark k-p at November 8, 2004 12:28 AM

sorry that shd have read

looking fwd to hearing from you

Posted by: mark k-p at November 8, 2004 12:44 AM

hmmmm i tht the hayward show wz a bit pedestrian and wz glad i hadn't had to pay to get in (haha in the spirit of the title i hitched a ride on an academic freebie by pretending to be my own sister)

disclaimer: i grew up as a fan-devotee of pollocks toy museum - currently not open - which covered identical territory much less piously

Posted by: mark s at November 8, 2004 12:16 PM


Posted by: sean at November 8, 2004 01:22 PM

If you can't see the vast, self-evident-reality of Heaven or Hell after this Finite Existence, great. I'll remind you. Very axiomatic to those who repent -Blessed Otto

Posted by: Catalyst4Christ at November 8, 2004 04:44 PM