Nau mai, haere mai, welcome to eyeCONTACT, a forum built to encourage art reviews and critical discussion about the visual culture of Aotearoa New Zealand. I'm John Hurrell its editor, a New Zealand writer, artist and curator. While Creative New Zealand and other supporters are generously paying me and other contributors to review exhibitions over the following year, all expressed opinions are entirely our own.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Performimg with other musical bodies as instruments

Phil Dadson: Bodytok
4 September – 26 September 2008

Phil Dadson is well known in this country and abroad for his work in the pioneer musical group From Scratch, and his various solo sound projects. In 2006 he had an installation in the New Gallery when he was a finalist in the last Walters Prize.

So what is he up to here at Starkwhite, with this Bodytok project? It is an archive where he has filmed a wide range of people, from different cultural backgrounds, to make elementary rhythmical sounds, using their own body as an instrument – and not singing.

So, without using vocal chords, they can make clicking, squeaking, whirring sounds (like Victor Borge) by compressing their cheeks or manipulating their tongues and lips, or they can clap, jiggle, rub or do whatever is necessary to create strange bodily aural effects.

This Starkwhite show is a test run with three plasma screens that the visitor activates by approaching the sensors at the front. She or he can stop and start them at will, thereby orchestrating the recorded performances and using them as instruments in a group, so the different sound patterns overlap. Three performers at once, like From Scratch. It’s a very clever idea.

The trouble is Dadson likes people too much. The faces are so interesting, with their expressions of intense shyness, laughter, or initial embarrassment (one person performs under a bucket), that they distract. You forget about the sonic dimension and just think in terms of psychology – how nice it is to see these interactions with Dadson’s camera and mike.

But the warmth of this visual appeal is counterproductive for the gallery visitor, the potential performer and manipulator of archives. To really make the sound samples work in a controlled, integrated fashion, I think, just the aural recordings should be used, so they can be listened to more intensely and analysed, with no visual distractions. It makes it easier to concentrate.

The counter-argument is that maybe for some visitors that method is far too dry, too abstract, too detached. It removes the lead-in into the recorded performances, the human touch. It won’t encourage participation in the gallery.

Perhaps with these comments I’m taking the project’s potential too seriously and am missing the point. Dadson (and technical collaborator James Charlton) will no doubt discover in time the efficacy of his idea and if visitors do interact as desired. We’ll have to wait and see.

(Not all the above images are in the Starkwhite show, but they clearly indicate the nature of Dadson's project.)

No comments: