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MICHAEL GRAEVE / GATING
How does the way we understand things that we hear differ from the way we understand things that we see? Sight and hearing are the two senses we rely upon most to engage with the world. Sight, of course, is the pre-eminent sense- it aids our movement, memory and ability to form opinions. We place such importance on sight that the logic of vision, the idea of seeing, permeates the way we think and the way we articulate our thoughts. Our physical and intellectual dependence on sight has in turn privileged those cultural forms that favour vision. Cultural forms which rely on faculties other than sight even make concessions to vision. Recorded music, for instance, placates our sense of sight with music videos and the images that recording artists construct for visual media such as television and magazines. In fact it is difficult to think about any cultural form without vision coming into the picture. We may experience sound using our ears but we come to make sense of it with our eyes. Nevertheless, sound does exist independently of vision. lt has a unique logic and structure quite separate to things from the visual realm. For some time visual artists have investigated the relationship between sound and vision by using aural metaphors to interrogate vision and vice versa. Recent examples that come to mind are Carsten Nicolai's use of audio frequencies that have visual representations, and Angela Bulloch's interactive music/light installations.
Michael Graeve has been exploring the relat ionship between the audio and visual realms through reductive painting/sound installations. These installations often consist of a suite of paintings which is accompanied by audio piece(s) amplified in the same exhibition space. He presents the viewer with particular models for thinking about the relationship between audio and visual technologies, such as painting and audio recording equipment. Via these models, Graeve's work expresses the interrelatedness of our senses of sight and sound. He constructs exhibitions that seem to propose that we should be listening to his paintings and looking at this audio work. In two exhibitions in Sydney in September, 2002, however, Graeve's paintings were exhibited in silence.
At Canny Dietzschold Gallery, Graeve exhibited two suites of paintings which had previously been exhibited in Melbourne accompanied by sound compositions. Frequency, rhythm and otherwise painted 2000 was originally exhibited at Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces in Octopus no. 1. The work consists of twelve equally proportioned, vertical panels which alternate irregularly between flat monochromatic fields and sharp, staccato brush strokes. Originally accompanying the paintings were two speakers, each amplifying a pure sine wave of slightly differing pitch. The regular, monotones emitting from each speaker interacted in such a way that they produced a rhythmic sound. Similarly, the suite of paintings SIMPLE METHODS for complex times, also included in the exhibition at Dietzschold, was initially the visual component of a painting and sound instal lation at Bendigo Art Gallery. These paintings varied in scale and composition -tall, thin canvases with hardedge yellow bands were installed alongside short, wide canvases with roughly painted stripes, and square canvases with large areas unpainted. The audio component which was available on CD from the gallery comprised nine short improvised record player and loudspeaker pieces. True to the tradition of experimental music these pieces sound like audio equipment being misused in order to produce sounds they were never intended to make.
Running concurrently with the show at Dietzschold was 'Gating', an exhibition Graeve had originally curated for West Space (Melbourne), now showing in the Australia Council 's foyer exhibition space. This is a fairly compromised exhibition venue - a foyer, not a gallery - but it is extremely visible to Surry Hills foot traffic, with half of the space facing the windows out to Elizabeth Street and effectively on view 24/7. 'Gating' is an ambitious project including work by twenty-nine artists.1 As Graeve explains in his CD booklet/catalogue essay, 'gating' is a term used by professional audio technicians which describes a commonly used process of noise reduction and sound editing. The basic principle of gating is to allow only sounds that reside above a certain threshold to be recorded. Quiet or weak sounds are thus filtered out. 'Gating', however, was not concerned specifically with the technical procedure of sound gating, but allowed the principles of the procedure to apply equally to visual and sound art. Graeve encouraged participating artists to engage with 'compositional, structural, practical, poetic, metaphorical or philosophical responses to a process whereby so-called fundamental or essential parts are emphasised by the deliberate omission of other (subtle, inessential, superfluous) parts.'2 As was the case for the Dietzschold exhibition, 'Gating' had been exhibited initially with the sound works plainly audible in the exhibition space. At the Australia Council, however, the sound works were present in the form of a listening station. This effectively separated the two components of the show. One could either look at the work on the walls or sit in the foyer and listen to the sound works on CD. With vision equating to zero in an audio realm and vice versa, the visual art was effectively gated whilst listening to the CD and the sound art gated whilst looking at the visual component.
Although in both of these exhibitions the reason for separating the audio and visual components was possibly a pragmatic one responding to space restrictions, the result provided an interesting variation on Graeve's standard mode of exhibition. Rather than combining sound and vision in a way which has a tendency to collapse them to a singular art form, their separation enabled each element to engage and inform the other in an autonomous way. In the collapsed painting/sound installation the viewer is bombarded with visual and audio data and forced to engage with both elements simultaneously. In this model one's attention shifts erratically from the paintings to the sound, attempting to reconcile them to a cohesive whole. Separating the two components, however, enables the viewer to address a painting on its own terms whilst remaining informed by the logic and metaphor of the audio component. The corresponding works on CD could be addressed as sound compositions yet expanded by their correlation with the paintings. In 'Gating' the metaphor of sound gating, which was fleshed out by Graeve's statement and the pieces on the listening station, provided a meaningful and effective framework for considering the visual component. The holes in Tom Fruchtl's painted cardboard tray, sample, 2002, or the meticulously 'blanked out' pages of newspaper by Ruark Lewis, Le Monde Transcriptions, 1994, took on the audio logic of the sound gate and, in fact, only remained meaningful within the context of this logic. In the framework established by Graeve's exhibition, Lewis' work, which was executed in 1994 in response to the progressive digitisation of print media, shifted from its critique of visual technological progress to a reflection on audio technological procedures.
The collapsing of audio and visual art forms in painting/sound installations and their subsequent separation expands the possibilities for the interaction between visual and audio art forms. In an experimental yet pragmatic way Graeve is exploring ways of enabling the viewer to move beyond the interpretative framework prescribed by particular media. Moreover, Graeve's project aims at freeing different art forms from the sensory faculty to which they ordinarily would be bound.
CONNY DIETZSCHOLD GALLERY, SYDNEY
17 AUG - 18 SEP 2001
AUSTRALIA COUNCIL FOYER EXHIBITION SPACE, SYDNEY
22 AUG - 18 OCT 2002