Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Sound Installation Review: Ruth Tomlinson’s “Lost Long: A Landscape” at Jack Straw

A curious paradox exists within this installation space.

This is a place to linger. Delicate percussion (wind snapping a rope against a flagpole) sounds randomly and as if from a great distance; speaking of picturesque, wide landscapes. Gentle voices proclaim the condition of the cloud cover and of the wind; the timbre is both calming and sensuous.

This is not a place to linger. There is no place to sit or relax. The while light is glaring, unfriendly. The landscape on the wall – made with hundreds of push-pins in the shape of mountains and valleys – is bleached white, the color of the wall, as if scorched by a malevolent sun and then left to disintegrate over eons in a world without life. There is a table in the center of the room, but it emits more garish light and offers nothing but desiccated, abstracted branches (cut from paper with black outlines showing) and skeletal remains of more branches (painted white, again) on the floor below.

The audio is based on the natural, and is friendly, welcoming. The visual is based on the natural, and is unfriendly, even hostile. This is of course the world we live in: “nature” is both a calming balm for the soul and the abode of predators and parasites. This installation is about this, though dividing the experience so that one feels the benevolence with one sense (hearing) and the horrible with another (sight).

But there is more to it than that. The accompanying flier suggests some alternate readings.

1.) The landscape of branches and push-pins is derived from a specific location, and suggestive of memory of that location: perhaps one’s remembrance of a particular place and time diminishes over time, becoming washed out, fading to white, as it were. The glaring light is simply the absence of color, as the memory disappears; diminution of sound also occurs but quiet sound produces a quite difference experience.

2.) At one point, the light is referred to as “Jesus Light”. What is expressed here, then, is not malevolence at all, but the inescapable light that penetrates and reveals all. One would naturally feel discomfort in its presence, were it not the very source of refuge from its own glare.

3.) Maybe one’s experience of a landscape, whether natural or man-made, is always subjective; what suggested a dichotomy to me (or a sort of antagonistic yin-yang) may not actually be so. I was able to – briefly – sit against the wall and shut my eyes against the brightness, and experience the sound aspect differently, and more peacefully. Another person might “see” the whole piece (or be able to enter into it) in an alternate, but equally meaningful, way.

Cloudless, windless, few clouds, no wind, half cloud cover, slight wind, cloudless, slight to moderate wind, few clouds, no wind, three-quarter cloud cover, slight wind, few clouds, no wind, few clouds, no wind, quarter cloud cover, slight wind, three-quarter cloud cover, no wind, few clouds, no wind, half cloud cover, slight wind, no clouds, moderate wind…

1 comment:

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