Cathy Lane, Peter Cusack, Angus Carlyle and Rupert Cox, David Toop: CRiSAP members present their works for Staging Disorder, curated by Esther Teichmann and Christopher Stewart: words by Gabriel.
This is perfect timing. Either on purpose or not, Staging Disorder, the current exhibition at LCC, fits impressively in the contemporary dread of conflicts at the threshold of Europe. It consists of a cohesive series of installations of sound works, photographs and moving images. The denominator is the investigation of the real/fake interplay in global clashes, a reflection upon social manipulation and public lies.
The visual part, featuring artists such as An-My Lê and Richard Mosse, focuses on the ‘simulated truth’ of war-training sites. The sonic works deepen the exploration of sound realities from chaotic contexts.
Cathy Lane reflects on the social construction of enmity in our everyday aural experience. Preparations for an Imaginary Conflict presents paranoia anticipating political clashes: eight loudspeakers on a dais reproduce slogans and lighting phrases from media and propaganda, intertwined with long-lasting silences. No reference to any particular conflict: rhetoric is shown in its indeterminate form. Her work allows us to maintain a critical distance: the speech is isolated, we recognize its emptiness, and become aware of it.
Peter Cusack’s Sounds from Dangerous Places requires more interaction: a dimly lit room, resonating with ambient sounds from today’s abandoned Chernobyl. There are several headphones on both sides, each matched with a small, suggestive photograph. By picking up one of them, a micro environment emerges from the ongoing texture: here one discovers poems, songs, farm noises. Cusack’s ‘sonic journalism’ is fascinating, almost contemplative; it evocates a quiet land preserving the traces of the disaster. Approaching those tiny scenes within the sonic shell of the space is like glancing at the intimate gestures of those human and natural lives that have survived.
On its turn, The Cave Mouth and the Giant Voice by Angus Carlyle and Rupert Cox investigates environmental memories. Their work documents the combination of natural sounds and military machinery in a sea grotto by Sunabe, Japan. To explore the aural history of the place, the artists recreate the conditions of the Okinawan cave in a gloom, dense space provided with speakers. The talks between Yogi-san, a WWII survivor who hid in the grotto, and sound scientist Kozo Hiramatsu gradually appear on a black screen. ‘We may hear how war memory becomes a way of listening to the environment,’ wrote Carlyle. Words get ‘solidified as text and witness to history’. A full experience of it certainly requires time, a proper immersion into the acoustic flux.
Aural memory also inspires David Toop’s work. But, surprisingly, The Sonic Boom is silent. Rather than a sound piece, it is a literary work on sound – a written text in the exhibition catalogue. The artist weaves skilfully together the recollections of noises from his childhood in Waltham, by the Royal Gunpowder Mills. The intimacy of his own ‘awakening to sound’ is expanded into the whole sonic world: explosions, Big Bangs, hints to apocalyptic tragedies recur all throughout his visionary account. An ambitious, well-managed idea.
Staging Disorder is indeed a complex, multi-layered project; sounds vary from being a source of fascination to rising suspicion, from emotional involvement to critical investigation. This impresses me. It calls for diversified engagement strategies, artistically, humanely, socially. If one accepts the challenge, then the experience is fulfilling. Certainly, the exhibition reconfirms the importance of sound art as a means to explore today’s manifold reality. Worth seeing, more than once.
Staging Disorder is running until 12-03-2015 at London College of Communication.