The exhibition Stale Air, in a Room, before Motion presents a new body of work by artists Paul Good and Kirsty Wood, comprising sculpture and sound. While their long-standing creative partnership originates in the visual arts, they are equally known for their musical output. Though these studio-based and sonic activities are pursued separately, they are here brought together to form a single entity, a sensorium, which stresses the input of different perceptual faculties.
The sculptural tableau depicts two peregrine falcons suspended in flight above a fractured landscape of blue resin shards punctuated with pools of indigo ink. Their claws are entangled in conflict as they hurtle towards the ground, memorialising a real life incident witnessed by the artists Paul Good and Kirsty Wood, whilst living in a high-rise tower block whose roof was occupied by the mating birds of prey. Engaged in what appeared to be a fight to the death, the falcons were hurtling down, oblivious to gravity, finally pulling away from one another a split second before impact, as if testing a sublime death drive.
The iconography recalls the emotional sublime present in works by Romantic and Symbolist paintings from the 19th Century. Philosopher Immanuel Kant had asserted that the sublime revealed a reality characterized by indeterminacy and undecidability. This power of disturbance referred to continues to lie at the heart of the sublime, argues postmodern philosopher Jean François Lyotard, and extends to present day art since it ‘attempts to present the unpresentable’.
The sculpture is accompanied by a score of layered electric guitar chords that plays intermittently, adding dimension, scope and mass. Sculpture, accordingly, is sonic as much as visual, as it alters the acoustic experience of a given space. By adding an actual sound element or soundtrack to the three-dimensional work, its spatial presence is extended into the fourth dimension – time. The static work may depict motion – the falling pair of falcons – but it is the soundwaves that introduce actual movement, underscoring the duration of time and its connection to the space. Sound is immersive since it fills its host, the space. According to composer David Toop ambient soundwaves favour a type of immersive listening since, ‘like the ocean, you’re deluged by music’.
In the exhibition setting, the atmosphere created by audiovisual inputs forms a micro-environment within the space. It is not, however hermetic in nature, since the boundary between what is explicitly part of the artwork, and what is extraneous to it remains in constant flux. Background noise, visitor movement, and institutional operations form a background to the work, augmenting and interfering with its reception. In particular, argues art historian Helmut Draxler ‘the history of relations between music and the visual arts since John Cage cannot be read as one of fusion in the sense of the total artwork…but rather as the history of the shift in the direction of the fields of sound and museality.
This text is an excerpt from Somewhere in the Nowhere by Nicolas de Oliveira and Nicola Oxley published as part of the vinyl record accompanying the exhibition.