The Sound of Nowhere
Various sites around Dongcheng District, Beijing
5 – 12 June, 2011
Like any art form, creative activity that involves sound has a relationship with the world as a production and with an audience as reception. Both relationships have different expectations and requirements for whatever might be termed “success.”
The often ephemeral form of sound work dictates that it must assert itself in a stronger way to ensure its reception as in some way distinct from the “distractions” it works within. The concert hall, for instance, not only provides a hermetic, purpose-built environment for the perception of sound, but—as with the gallery—it creates a psychological space devoted to sound, which prepares the audience to receive the material.
As visual art has its idealised environments in the white/grey/black cubes, and must negotiate new tactics of reception upon leaving those spaces, so sound encounters a potentially hostile, but promisingly productive terrain upon entering the outside world. This boundary between the sound work and the world is a fertile creative ground for the artist, on which the work can take any position, and which creates the relationship with the audience and their understanding of how the work fits into the environment. This might be described, referring back to visual arts, as its “framing,” which include not just the physical details of the environment, but the institutional structures around the pieces.
In the case of The Sound of Nowhere, the environment is made up of the collection of this particular set of pieces in a group show with this particular name and provenance; the (rather nicely designed) handout guiding the audience to the sites; the background information about the artists and works provided.
Sound’s ephemeral nature perhaps encourages me to focus on these “extraneous” details in the appreciation of the work. The organisers themselves stress “the processes of the search, discovery, listening to and/or taking in.” The works in The Sound of Nowhere are widely dispersed around the hutongs of Beijing’s Dongcheng District and work with these constraints and conditions as part of their being in the world.