The Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Art
Vol. 2: The Rings of Saturn
Kerry Schuss celebrates the 20th anniversary of the gallery, re-opening his gallery at its original Tribeca location, on Oct. 4th, with an exhibition organized by Bob Nickas.
This is the second edition of a project that began a year ago in Los Angeles, with Vol. 1: Life On Earth. That exhibition marked 40 years since NASA's launch of the twin Voyager space probes. Having traveled beyond the rings and moon of Saturn, the probes are expected to continue their mission in interstellar space for another seven years, until about 2025, at which time nearly a half century will have passed. The Voyager probes are the oldest man-made objects sent furthest from the Earth. Voyager has entered into the realm of mythology, not only for its mission, which continues, but with its ultimate "message in a bottle," a record of life on our planet.
Each of the probes carried with them a Golden Disc, a compilation of images, scientific data, natural sounds, greetings in 55 languages, and music presenting an overview of life on Earth, including everything from Bach played by Glenn Gould to Chuck Berry's Johnny B. Goode. At the time, the folklorist Alan Lomax objected to that song as adolescent, but Carl Sagan, who headed the project, defended its inclusion by insisting, "There are a lot of adolescents on the planet." (Other than a stylus, the discs came with no playback system. If one of the probes is discovered, and with it a Golden Disc, how do we know if intelligent life will figure out how it can be played? And if the intelligent life is adolescent, might a disc more readily be used as a frisbee?) Another song that was initially chosen, Here Comes the Sun, by the Beatles, had to be left off the disc; although the group agreed, their record company, EMI, which held the copyright, refused. We can only wonder: did it occur to anyone to replace it with Nina Simone's interpretation? Would it have mattered that she was black and a woman? Or was her balancing act, infusing hope with sadness, simply too human?
Music accounts for about three quarters of the disc's contents. There is almost no visual art. Are artists somehow too alien, of the Earth but extra-terrestrial? Why was art set aside in favor of various recordings? -- the sound of a kiss, of a whale and ocean waves, a message from Sagan's young son: "Hello from the children of planet Earth." Art from the caves in Altamira, Lascaux and Chauvet would have communicated as much, if not more. Art works may be thought of as "strange attractors," drawing us towards them, while also being attracted to and possibly summoning one another. There is an interconnectedness across distant points in time and space that cannot be denied. The very idea of the contemporary as it persists within the art world is meant, in some measure, to deny art's connection to the larger realm; to ritual and folk-magic, to pre-history itself, insisting as it does, and for some inconveniently, that meaning inhabits objects and images, that it may be sensed, is alive inside them--and when it's not, that absence is palpably felt. At its most resonant, as it vibrates, in the words of Lee Lozano, quantum-mechanically, its structure and behavior visible on an almost molecular level, art doesn't necessarily require translation, and not in more than fifty languages. An exhibition comprised of contemporary art, proposing them as works of "interplanetary folk art," questions our notion of the contemporary, itself appearing antiquated today--the very designation representing a sort of interminable holding pattern into which art continues to be placed. Is everything new automatically "contemporary," and does this somehow entitle it to be considered new?
Of one thing we can be sure, art works are themselves space probes of a sort. To understand them in this way is, on the one hand, to test our tolerance for what may be accepted as such, as works of art, while on the other to absolutely marvel at art's heightened capacity to retrieve, translate, and transmit information beyond itself, far beyond the moment in which it was made. Works of art may thus be thought to store data for future retrieval, to aid us in imagining what came before--to potentially confound a given narrative--as well as to help us navigate what's to come. In this we envision a reciprocal elasticity. Time moves in more than one direction. Hasn't it always?
Volume 2 of Strange Attractors, The Rings of Saturn, considers an expanded notion of field recordings. Made outside of a professional studio, field recordings are captured on site, often in nature or in the lived environment of the performers, where there is an overlay of music and everyday sounds, the music of everyday sound, the discovery of which allows for a more resonant sense of rhythm and the pulse of our own bodies. Recordings made in the field are in this sense alive. In terms of visual art, the post-studio artists of the later '60s were also working in the field, whether with permanence, in the form of earthworks, or ephemerality, with situations that engage weather and "climates of site." This recurred in the mid-to-later '80s with artists such as Mark Dion and Laurie Parsons, anthropology and poetics intermingled in anthropoetics. Today, something similar continues, often within a stone's throw of the studio, in the street, on the urban beach, and relates to recycling and an alchemy of the vernacular--the potentiality of everyday objects and their transformation. In this exhibition, there is an unexpected inclusion of works that engage patterns and opticality, an art concerned with looking / listening as activities for artist and audience in parallel: the artwork as performer, the visual elements as a coming together that may be considered acoustic and audible in its echoes and overtones. Here, volume also suggests levels of sound, from rain as it falls to create concentric rings within a puddle at our feet reflecting the sky above, to the silenced uncorking of a champagne bottle, from Moondog and Sun Ra to Jlin and Rihanna, to wider fields of vision.
Artists included in the exhibition:
Yuji Agematsu . Mitchell Algus . Leilah Babirye . Lisa Beck . Jane Benson . Moki Cherry . Bruce Conner . Tony Conrad . James Crosby . Ryan Foerster . Terry Fox . Lukas Geronimas . Daan van Golden . Lonnie Holley . Mamie Holst . Chip Hughes . Candy Jernigan . Tillman Kaiser . Jutta Koether . Lazaros . Paul Lee . Dave Muller . Kayode Ojo . Nik Planck . Helen Rae . Aura Rosenberg . Sally Ross . Nancy Shaver . Philip Taaffe . Richard Tinkler . Josh Tonsfeldt . Dan Walsh . B. Wurtz
A selection of album covers from the curator's record collection forms a horizon line around the gallery--the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Don Cherry, Alice Coltrane, Mike Cooper, John Fahey, Faust, Henry Flynt, Fred Frith, Milford Graves / Don Pullen, Emahoy Tsegue-Mariam Guebru, Daniel Higgs, Jonah Dan Presents Intergalactic Dub Rock, Yumi Kagura, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Craig Leon, Norberto Lobo, Angus Maclise, Mushroom Ceremony of the Mazatec Indians of Mexico, Music From Mato Grosso Brazil, Music From Saharan Cellphones, Nurse With Wound, Terry Riley, 6 Organs of Admittance, The Sounds and Ultrasounds of the Bottlenose Dolphin, Sounds of Insects, The Sounds of the Junkyard, The Village Fugs, Leslie Winer, LaMonte Young & Marian Zazeela--an inverse event horizon, points of further return. From this, a playlist / soundtrack has been compiled by Dave Muller, available on the gallery web site.