The lift in the Royal Festival Hall is my favourite lift by a country mile and though in all respects it’s a perfectly nice, if a little ordinary, lift, it’s not about the lift’s appearance or the views of the Southbank afforded by a journey in it, good though those are. No, this lift contains art.
Writing about Bruce Nauman’s Days yesterday put the idea of sound and the way information is communicated firmly in my mind, so coming across a leaflet for Fade In/Fade Out – a show I saw at Bloomberg SPACE a few years ago – while sorting through a pile of random paperwork felt like a very good coincidence. There were a few great pieces in the exhibition, but the work that’s stayed with me most clearly is Kris Martin’s Mandi iii, a station information board loudly and relentlessly updating to make sure we have up to the minute information. But as the flaps clicked over the lack of information remained; every surface on the board was plain black.
There is a beautiful simplicity to Bruce Nauman’s Days at the ICA. The space is empty but for two rows of plain white squares suspended at roughly head height. Walking between the white panels – seven in in each row – it’s clear that they’re loudspeakers and that from each a voice can be heard speaking the days of the week. So far, so simple. The space is almost empty and what’s in there is simplicity itself – my liking for art that’s minimal and preferably white can be no secret to anyone who’s been reading this on even a semi-regular basis – so predictably enough I’m in favour of Days from the start.
The whimsy of Noble and Webster’s use of shadows is witty enough but ultimately – for me at least – the work is unsatisfyingly slight. I enjoy it well enough at the time but the work never really gets under my skin. But shadow is a powerful force and it’s one that Mona Hatoum uses to really good effect.
In installations like Current Disturbance – which I saw at the Whitchapel Gallery in 2010 – Hatoum uses shadow as a meaning force. The bare lightbulbs fade in and out and the crackle of an electric current gives a sinister edge to the changing light levels. The gridded structure – reminiscent of the cages occupied by battery hens perhaps – feels prison-like. The installation has an architectural feel, but if this is a city space it is a densely-populated and uncomfortable one.
Vatnajökull in Iceland is the largest glacier in Europe. But it’s melting into a lagoon, thanks, one assumes, to climate change. For a week in June 2007, artist Katie Paterson submerged a microphone, attached to a mobile phone, into the freezing waters of the ever expanding Jökulsárlón lagoon making it possible to listen to the sound of the ice melting.
For the work Vatnajökull (the sound of), Paterson displayed the phone number – in the form of a neon sign – at the Slade School of Fine Art in London as part of her MFA degree show.
It starts with a bit of whispering and low-level chatter from around the room but gradually the singing starts, quietly at first but quickly getting louder as different voices join in. Before I know it, the room is full of sound. Whether seated in the centre of the oval of speakers – one for each of the forty voices of the Salisbury Cathedral Choir singing Thomas Tallis’s Spem in alium – or wandering among the speakers picking up individual voices, this is not a soundscape it’s possible to experience in the concert hall.