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Thursday, 29 April 2010

Drawing Sound - Eno's Paintings

I have just carried out another Second Sight workshop at Fabrica, in response to their current exhibition 77 million paintings by Brian Eno (guest artistic director of The Brighton Festival). I set up Second Sight in 2002, now my longest running workshop, with some of the participants regularly attending since day one. Second Sight offers a multi sensory approach to experiencing each exhibition, which begins with my verbal description of the work, explaining how it looks. In addition to this I introduce sounds, materials, even smell and tastes to offer further multiple ways in to the work. For some my interpretation is a necessity, to others it becomes another dimension to their experience of the work that they are interested in having. Interpretation of the works meaning is the role of the participants, so specific questions about the artist’s intensions and what others have said about the work are only answered towards the end of the session. The workshop ends with a group discussion about our feelings about the work. The majority of Second Sight’s participants are visually impaired or blind, but anyone interested in this approach to engaging with an exhibition is welcome.

I was particularly looking forward to introducing the group to this show because of its multi sensory content. Also the way in which the exhibition is designed, making use of Fabrica’s building (a former church) to give a unique way of experiencing an artwork, relates in to my art own work in which I attempt to slow down peoples perception enabling them to contemplate and respond more fully.

The visual aspect of the exhibition is described on Fabrica’s website as ‘77 Million Paintings by Brian Eno is a painting installation in light that is slowly and continuously changing within a composition of high definition video screens.
Translucent and richly coloured abstract images, mainly hand drawn on 35mm slides, form component elements that are almost imperceptibly overlaid, reconfigured and transformed as each moment passes.
 Reminiscent in form and scale to a stained glass window or mosaic design, 77 Million Paintings creates an architectural focus for reflection and orientation in both a physical and symbolic sense.’ 
The sound is as much present as the visual aspect of the exhibition and appears to me to follow the same process of the paintings, with different sounds constantly layering shifting and merging as they are played out of separate suspended boom boxes.
The space itself is suggestive of how the work should be experienced, where once rows of pews would have faced the chancel area of this building (now housing the paintings) rows of inviting red sofas and scattered leather bean bags reside, just visable in the darkness. The bustling street outside feels distant though I did enjoy hearing the odd seagull and not knowing (or caring), whether this was part of Eno’s soundtrack or not.

I knew I wanted to introduce the workshop participants to music drawing as soon as I knew what the exhibition would be. I have drawn in this way many times myself and have used it in dozens of workshops and so knew it would be right for this. Recently I have had a breakthrough in an idea for a piece of my own work that carries the idea of drawing sound a step further, something I am very excited about and experiencing the exhibition/workshop was not so much research as the generator of further excitement and affirmation that this is the right idea or me to try and get made next.

The method I use to draw sound is an exercise in listening, just as traditional drawing methods can be seen as an exercise in looking. Like dance movement within the music and the body meet. The marks made during sound drawing in this way can be fascinating as their variation from person to person says something of how differently individuals focusing on the same sound, listen, and let go. Drawing music as a group working onto one surface, as we were in this workshop, is also a good icebreaker when bringing together new participants, it frees people up (to one another and the idea of being in a workshop/producing something creative), no one is observed or judged on their skills.

Drawing music for a period of time before experiencing Eno’s work felt like best preparation I could give. It is my responsibility to give an interpretation of the visual impact a visitor to the exhibition can have, and this does not just mean the artwork. It is the experience of entering the quiet of the gallery after the busy street, glancing at a wall of text from which you may note words like ‘surrender’, ‘contemplative’ and ‘reflection’, then making out in the darkness the comfy seating other people are lounging on, you are unable to see if they are awake or asleep, their faces lit only faintly by the reds, blues, yellows and purples the painting emits. Verbal description is a good method but it will always be removed. This exhibition in particular warranted a direct, physical, experience.

When I introduce the idea of drawing any sound to a group, I do so slowly and in stages, building up the intensity over the course of several different pieces of sound. For this drawing we didn’t have long, I eased in with Ave Maria then Donna Summer’s State of Independence, and ended on Eno’s own, from the album Ambient 1: Music for Airports. I purposefully didn’t want to use the sound from 77 million paintings as I wanted to keep a distinction between the activity of music drawing and the experience of the exhibition as the artist intended it.

One of the reasons I enjoy facilitating group music drawing is that, when I am not drawing with them, I can observe, though often I will only glance at people’s faces (I ask participants to close their eyes while drawing) as I feel as if it is somehow wrong to watch. I have seen hundreds of people, of all ages do this and their faces and movements are lovely, I am always moved by it. When they stop it is as if they have just woken up from a deep sleep.

Awoken I asked the group to find a seat on the sofas and left them to experience Eno’s work, I began by audio describing the paintings though decided quickly not to ‘interfere’ as it felt I was doing, and to leave the group to take from it what they would, from sound, vision or both.

On the whole the response to the exhibition was positive. The sound took some people to forests or sat in a boat in the mist noticing a foghorn in the distance. Things were ‘found’ in the paintings, snow, animals and women’s faces, which reminded me of our inbuilt need to give form to things, to find recognizable shapes within the clouds. Where most had found the sounds to be relaxing one man found them to be the opposite, as they did not have the structure ‘we are brought up to think music should have’ so he found this frustrating. One of my favorite comments was by one woman who was fascinated by the fact that someone would even have the idea to make this piece of work in the first place. She said that Brian Eno was so clever he should live forever! We then went on to discuss plugging him into a computer and like his paintings and sound he would be forever generating. An interesting thought on the role of the future artist?!

One of the most interesting things about the discussion was listening to the way sound and vision were talked about. Some people, through lack of vision or personal preference, focused on the sound where as others talked about the visual. The points being made about each area - the movement within them, the affect it had on your state of mind, what forms where ‘found’ in them merged. Indistinguishable from one another in what they evoked and the language used to describe them, these two materials added up to a whole, multi sensory artwork which happened to use a combination of visual and non visual materials to communicate with us.

To see more images from this workshop

Photography by Andrew Brooks

Brighton festival

1 comment:

  1. Hi Naomi, it was great fun to take part in that workshop as a volunteer. How fascinating it always is to hear other people´s point of view when knowing their artistic taste and opinions will not necessarily match one´s own.

    Good luck with future enterprises.

    Daniel Y.