The Lament Project, 2008
Can you describe how and when you began incorporating sound with your visual work and how the curatorial practice grew from that?
I guess I could start by saying that I’ve been involved with sound in fits and starts since I was in graduate school at CalArts.
I did a project using slide projections which had a soundtrack by a student in the music school, and after graduating in 1985 I co-organized “Solstice: The Sun Stands Still” featuring Sonic Youth, Sacchrine Trust, Debt of Nature and Swans for the Foundation for Art Resources — FAR, while I was on their Board of Directors.
Although, the first sound work I created was for Liam Gillick’s “Speaker Project” at the ICA in London in 1992 — that involved the simultaneous reading of a text in multiple languages. Organizing sound events became a consistent theme in 1998 when I put together “Angels Gate Dusk” in San Pedro and initiated the “sound.” concert series.
About the same time sound seeped back into my visual practice with the “projections + sound” collaboration I did with Joseph Hammer and the two web works which grew out of that. Later sound began to replace cinema as a subject in my photographs as well with the images based on the concert series in 2001 and the band shells, which I started to shoot in 2003.
So my interest in sound moved from works that featured audio as an element to works like the empty band shells, which were specifically about sound. The sound itself however was absent from the photographic work.
One could say that my interest in sound was residing within the organizing activity of SASSAS, so I didn’t feel the need to make it explicit in the visual work.
There’s an interesting quality about them, they seem to be a visual record of an absence…or silence.
Yes, I think that’s enhanced by the fact that so many of the band shells are photographed in snow, which was not intentional — it’s just that when I happened to be in the Midwest, it was winter time.
The work seems to be about memories caught in the process of fading away…they also seemed to have an embedded silence.
When I started to photograph the band shells, I assumed that most of the images would be older structures but in fact several of them are relatively recent.
I didn’t really intend for them to seem so forlorn, but some are in such disrepair….I made a conscious decision to shoot them when they weren’t in use.
I didn’t want them to be about the specificity of one event — I wanted people to be able to project their own memories into them.
The rules were that they had to be available 24/7 and the concerts held in them had to be free. If the structure was fenced in — it was edited out of the project.
The work is about public space and the disappearance of public space, the acts of philanthropy that funded the band shells and the public music programs that were often associated with them. City bands, “om pah pah” bands etc.
There really is a feeling of passing — the fact that our public space is rapidly giving way to a ubiquitous commercial and private space — a culture of surveillance and security that is suspicious of any real spontaneous social activity.
There is a kind of social isolation that comes with the loss of these kinds of spaces and there’s a transgressive quality to work seen in public space now- usually it takes the form of intervention.
So little work however seems genuinely transgressive these days….
The theme of passing is also present within the photos you did of the Tower Records buildings.
Well a lot of is caught up in the passing of analog to digital. It started with the idea that analog forms of sound were more visual than their digital equivalents, like the needle tracking across the LP, that kind of marking of duration, was more interesting to me visually than the little bar on an iPod.
There was also the idea of marking places that had been significant to me in terms of my sonic upbringing.
The analog signal is a ‘wave’, something that is representative of time passing — something that degrades with time.
That’s true, there’s a beauty in the act of degrading. And of course degradation is more audible — the kind of losses that happen with digital sound are really hard for the average person to hear.
Which is why many people are still drawn to vinyl — even many people born into the mp3 generation.
Records scratch and warp, you can see the dust on them, audiotape breaks and becomes entangled.
You can see a history of use and that history is revealed through the physical scratches, warps and dust. The 8-track tape I’ve used for the “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vidda” photo and one of the videos has someone’s name etched into the plastic.
That reminds me of that Christian Marclay piece – “Footsteps”. I have a copy from the original installation in Zurich- the LPs were spread on the floor and people were allowed to walk on them.
There are all sorts of ways a record can be a record. (Ha! I think that’s my cold speaking!)
The physicality of the analog really comes through with Christian’s work — even when he’s performing as a DJ — he seems to embrace the pops and imperfections of the vinyl.
Christian also transforms space with his objects — but you decided to put musicians into varied social spaces as part of your practice — talk about how you came up with the idea to form SASSAS.
Well it really came out of that concert back in 1998 and then the series at Sacred Grounds, there were some “founding premises,” the necessity of a comfortable space for listening and facilitating new relationships through improvisation. I also wanted to make sure musicians were paid for their labor.
Then after the “sound.” series moved to the Schindler House in 2000, it just seemed necessary to formalize things by founding a non-profit organization.
So many artists today are working within the context of a socially based practice — did you think along these lines when you started SASSAS?
The Schindler House became a matrix for a realm of activity and I was always interested in creating a tension between the nature of the performances and the house…maybe resonance is a better word than tension.
I was certainly conscious of relational aesthetics.
I knew Rirkrit Tiravanija, Liam Gillick and Christian Philip Mueller, Mark Dion and Renee Green etc. — but at the time I wasn’t thinking of SASSAS or the practice of organizing the concerts in that particular way.
I started thinking a little about relational aesthetics with the sound photos — which were a response to several staged photos I had seen, where the participant’s experience existed only for the photograph. In this work I wanted to create a series of images where the experience of the participants was primary and the photographs were secondary.
I guess the short answer is, I always saw the activity of SASSAS as a part of my practice but I wasn’t very active about framing it that way.
I think because I held everything to such a professional standard in terms of the performances (we did announcements, press releases, got press for the artists etc.) that it was hard for people to see it as just an art practice. It wasn’t messy enough. That sounds silly really; when it’s an art practice the artist is in the foreground — in the case of SASSAS, the house and the performers were the focus.
At least that’s what I tried to do (not to sound so selfless!!!)
That’s what’s so impressive about SASSAS — your commitment to the artists and the organization’s ability to maintain itself as an outlet for the musicians and performers. Where do you want SASSAS to be as an institution in the next few years?
That’s a hard question for me to answer — I see myself taking a less active role in the direction of the organization and I think it’s going to hit a point of transition and become something else — but I’m not sure what that is yet.
I think the archive is a great resource for artists and listeners.
It’s odd — it just grew organically and sometimes that’s what works best.
When I started the series I knew that we needed to document everything but I didn’t know what we’d ultimately do with it all. I’m glad that we’ve been able to put most of the concerts online.
OK, I think we covered a lot of ground today…thanks Cindy!
Thanks. Bye for now…it was fun!