Aural Postcard – Suffering for art?

During the last FUSE I went to (monthly event at the Vancouver Art Gallery), which by the way sucked anyway, with low attendance and third grade art/performances, I decided to once again employ my new fervid passion for sound level measurements. I didn’t take any recordings or get too caught up in measuring out of courtesy to my company, but here’s what I do have…

These guys here were making some serious noise behind this Hawaii-esque curtain. I guess they are a hard rock band or punk band (who even knows, I never had much appreciation for either) so I don’t know how to interpret the hula action there – ironic? In any case, the band not only sucked, but as it struck me – horribly over-amplified. For the size of space it was in, the atmosphere that was implied by the space – one of intimacy and acoustic-style recital, these guys really pulled out the big amps. It was quite unbearable and thus, I believe dB measurements were fairly accurate (see my notes in earlier posts on the iPhone app “dB” being unweighted and thus unreliable in certain situations).

Fuse-3 Fuse-1Now the second screenshot – Edge of a Wood, was a curious installation, and the reason why I want to juxtapose it to the first one is to illustrate when noise is actually appropriate and effective. (profoundly subjectively evaluated, of course) This installation consisted of a large-ish black room exhibition space with only a bench across from a full-size wall double video screen. Curiously I ended up walking right at the beginning of the art installation loop footage so what I found was relative silence and darkness. I made my way over to the bench and sat poised in expectation when a rumbling sound of an aircraft started to fade in, and the video started. The video was basically of a couple of helicopter lights being shone on what looked like a forest or mountain hill – the idea of the video presumably was to never know, and forever guess, exactly what was concealed by the darkness gauging by what was revealed by the lights. Meanwhile, the rumbling sound of the helicopter became progressively louder signalling the proximity of the craft to “us” the audience’s imaginary location. It became really loud. Way louder than the snapshot measurement I used above. It filled the space completely, there was simply nowhere to go, nothing to say, the space was so full of sound. Pink noise. But more periodic. Wide frequency rumble just pulsing through each one of us, resonating in every possible cavity. Like an invisible beast, who got angry and then it calmed down.

The reason why I titled this post “suffering for art” was just to trouble the notion of how art – particularly installation and performance art – challenges not simply our expectations, notions and beliefs, but quite practically – our senses. And sometimes – I would argue – it’s justified, but sometimes it’s really not, especially when it has the potential to harm or destroy our senses. Yes, I will admit that I am oh-so sick of shock-value art, but a further point is that while I can deal with emotional disturbance for some time I really don’t want to pay dearly for art in terms of my hearing. Or the affronts would at least have to be worth it!…

1 thought on “Aural Postcard – Suffering for art?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *