Last week, I went to the Georgian Gallery of the Talbot Rice for the symposium:

 Place – the challenge of sound in gallery settings

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On my way home, I found myself mulling over a sense that the participating audience could have grappled with the title of the symposium more directly…

The title raises issues central to the question of the credibility and feasibility of sound as a medium per se in contemporary art – whether the sound is part of a mixed-media work (ie an installation also involving physical object/s, light etc), a performance work, or a sound-only installation.

The approach of Joe Bank’s immersive, audio installation (Disinformation) undoubtedly brought the focus of attention to the field of sound art that emerges from acoustic design and digital music. This field is well represented and documented in art publishing, and more broadly in sound-art events. But, as James Clegg, assistant curator at Talbot rice summarised in his introduction, sound in art has a fascinatingly long and mixed pedigree – emerging from music, performance, sculpture and, most importantly, from the fertile gaps, the liminal places, in between these now unfashionably limiting categories.

This, for me, is the truly diverse and fascinating pedigree of sound in the visual arts.

But, I find myself questioning whether, in spite of the emergent popularity of sound per se, sound is really understood and accepted as a credible medium, among media, in this way. Its reputation as problematic remains.

Galleries are working to precedence – literally and metaphorically. And sound, whether presented on its own, or combined with film or in an installation, brings formidable challenges – of audibility, sensitivity and containment and the need for in-house technical expertise.

Given the role of the gallery as ‘keeper’, I do wonder whether, over time, these practical issues are having a reciprocal, repressive influence, in turn, on the direction and pace of development of sound in art-practices per se.

Have they served to encourage a continued ghetto-isation of the field of sonic art in its purest form – the art purely of sound?

Is the potential for new works in sound or mixed media with sound being influenced or discouraged by the primacy placed on visual over sonic media in mixed media works of art or shows?

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