Experimenta Makes Sense
(SonoLexic (2017) by Gail Priest (Australia). Mixed media installation, video, three channel sound (stereo + ultrasonic speaker), mild steel, wood, perspex tube, liquid. Dimensions 150 x 200 x 450cm. Duration 25 mins. Image courtesy of the artist © the artist)
Words by Lika Posamari
Sometimes words are noise. Sometimes, people are noise. Sometimes, feelings are noise. Narrow your focus, concentrate. Feel the noise. Filter the noise. Turn the noise over. We often consider language as what is spoken. Gail Priest’s work questions the flipside; the language of listening. As I am carried into the audiovisual world of SonoLexic, I begin to imagine. I learn that imagination is based on sonic memories. The sounds that the work shares progressively become seen and the visuals becomes heard to me. I begin to hear and see the constant flow of rain which appears as solid grey lines to the eye. At other times the visual vibrations appear like fine hairs catching the breeze, atop skin under a microscope. The colours blur into flat lines, like the way colours merge when you peer out the window of a moving vehicle, passing the scene by. Listening = perception + imagination. I am then guided to wonder, at what point does language cease to be shapes and form words? What are the underlying sounds of words when words are partially formed? SonoLexic explores a new type of synaethesia, ideaesthesia, loosely defined by Dank Nicolić as ‘sensing sound’. A stereo and ultrasonic hyper-directional speaker brings a voiceover in conversation with a glowing plasma tube that offers visuals, sometimes in the form of words, sometimes shapes. Do words have desires of their own floats across the screen. This is a meeting of seeing, hearing, perceiving and imagining.
From stereo, multidirectional sound, to a sound beam of precision. Adam Donovan and Katrin Hochschuh offer a visual manifestation of what we hear, or as Gail Priest encourages us to question, sounds we may see and visuals we may hear. This brings the rare opportunity to sit with a precise point of sound as it moves through space. The Curious Tautophone robot is controlling the inputs here. I am mesmerized with the fine silver lines that form curves in constant motion, evolving in their formations. Some dancing toward the center, others away from it. Gliding and sliding as the sound too circulates, as I move in and out of conscious awareness of it. Both eyes and ears are invited to follow. Is my latent memory darting out before me, as I see spiders’ legs or feel fingers upon my skull? Lines flipping and flicking to create new shapes. Lines splaying from center to periphery or creating rings. The reflection of the metal robotic head running across the fine lines as circles dancing into and out of swirls. What Priest offered in her meditative voiceover tones I feel here in the constant flows of these fine lines.
(Curious Tautophone – Tensor Field Ontology (2017) by Adam Donovan and Katrin Hochschuh (Austria/Germany/Australia). Robotics and responsive projection. 60 x 60 cm (robot) with variable projection. Image courtesy of the artist © the artists)
(A Hierarchy of Eddies (2017) by Scale Free Network. Custom-built welded steel frame and form-ply chamber, steel fan base, pre-fabricated pedestal fan and light fixtures, polystyrene balls, electrical components. Dimensions 250 x 240 x 360 cm. Duration variable. Photo by Zaylee Saint James Turner © image courtesy of the artists)
A Hierarchy of Eddies allows me to find a sense of peace in what has no rhyme or reason, logical pattern or conjecture within the confines of science as we know it. In a world of increasingly regulated spaces, it is liberating to get lost in the flow. I am transported and became part of the theatrical show of ten thousand polystyrene balls moving at the throws of air propelled from two fans created by the art-science collaborative Scale Free Network. There is no formulaic equation that may explain turbulence. Even chaos has a theoretical foundation, but this state of always being in flux, which appears unpredictable and without consistent configurations is offered here in a black box of mesmerizing possibility and freedom. Although extracted from natural occurrences in our blood, in river waters and tornadoes, I find comfort in knowing that such flows are everywhere. It is an enticing escape, to be drawn into irregular rhythms as strobe lighting accentuates the spectacle of multidirectional flows, of multiple velocities, forming shapes that words cannot name. Curiously, the only soundtrack is the mechanics of this theatrical scientific construction running parallel to a mesmerizing lack of structure in movement.
From freedom of flow to an environment of ultra-control, Lucy McRae’s observational documentary uses a fictitious Institute of Isolation to question the boundaries of what it means to be human. We are so conditioned to be interconnected in one sense or another, so what would it mean to be preparing for the rigours of the future alone? I wonder if the idea of resilience is not at odds with the very nature of the dehumanized environments we are offered on the screen. A voiceover asks pertinent questions. Is technology embalming the body and putting death out of time? Could the design of isolation augment the self beyond genetic traits? I move with the protagonist through physical spaces, constructs far from the natural world. At times the viewer is presented with four simultaneous video channels, the same location at different distances or angles, further amplifying the sense of disconnection from other human life. This experiment is engaging both the artist-protagonist as a ‘lab rat’ as well as myself as voyeur. We are in a different phase of evolution no longer driven by nature but by human intent, she says. I fear where that intent may take us and I get trapped in a feeling of discomfort and sense of claustrophobia as McRae completes training exercises inside a small chamber. I question the bounds of human potential and the fact that these locations and structures around McRae may be stagnant and stable, but we as humans are not.
These new explorations in media art, in bringing attention to sensory engagement with installation embracing different aspects of the technological spectrum offer a strangely meditative and contemplative opportunity. The space to interact with technology so far from the typical sensory flooding of the day-to-day may be a key facet. Further, these works pointedly interact with the human senses, each asking for attention within space and time for some mere moments away from the hustle and bustle of life. They encourage us to appreciate our sensory perceptions more, the lawlessness of movements as well as those that are greatly restricted. For me they interacted playfully with imagination and memory bringing new dimensions to the interactions of human and machine.