Academic journal article Music, Sound and the Moving Image

Sounding the Gallery: Video and the Rise of Art-Music

Academic journal article Music, Sound and the Moving Image

Sounding the Gallery: Video and the Rise of Art-Music

Article excerpt

Holly Rogers

Sounding the Gallery: Video and the Rise of Art-Music

New York: Oxford University Press, 2013: 256pp.

review by Stephen Graham

The clue has been in the name all along: video art. Incorporating aspects of sculpture, space, Cagean indeterminacy, audience participation/activation, new technology and, crucially for our purposes, sound and music, the corpus of practices usually gathered together under the name of 'video art' have long been claimed primarily as visual art, both in terms of institutional presence and generic identity. This is even if the 'problem of too many homelands', to paraphrase Anahid Kassabian (2013: 20-32), that is implied by video's multidisciplinarity (or the more liquid 'intermediality' that Holly Rogers rightfully prefers) puts such singular identification sharply into question. Surely the fluidly performative, spatial, aural and visual video-based work of figures such as Nam June Paik, Bill Viola, Robert Whitman, Joan Jonas and many others like them, which began in the mid-1960s both to cause a rupture in conventional gallery practice and to take its place in extra-institutional cultural movements of the time, points toward some kind of broader, less monolithic disciplinary identity?

This is the central argument of Holly Rogers' wide-ranging, detailed and often penetrating Sounding the Gallery. Rogers argues specifically that these video practices should be seen as representing what she calls 'video art-music', a form practised not by itinerant visual artists but instead by 'artist-composers', figures whose bailiwicks Rogers sees lying as much in the experimental traditions of twentieth century music as in any particular fine art heritage. Video art-music comes out of a double lineage, argues Rogers, whilst also using new technology and cultural possibilities to innovate a novel set of practices hovering between, and at a remove from, both. Rogers indeed thinks that this video-based, performative and spatial audiovisual set of art-music practices might ultimately be better understood as a 'facilitator of intermedial discourse' than as a discrete form or genre in itself (9).

Rogers' two central compound terms therefore allow her to characterise this work and these artist-composers within what she calls a 'refreshed discourse' at 'the intermedial intersection between visual and audio disciplines', each term 'fluidly' and 'expansively' designating 'a continuous creative experience in the present tense' (8-9). 'Video art-music' and 'artist-composer' should not, then, be seen in binary terms, repeating what Rogers sees as a historical mistake (labelling this work as video art) merely by adding a column to that mistake, but instead as trying to mitigate against the previous label's controlling narrative by replacing it with a kind of decentred dyad where no particular regime holds sway. Video here acts as what Rogers calls an 'adhesive that draws together music and art practices' (180, see also 39, where Rogers describes early video as a 'meta-media,' a 'multiincorporative genre'), facilitating discourse across disciplines such that musical and artistic tropes of innovation and experiment, changing social and political values, new uses of performance space and more come together to produce intermedial creative practices. What Rogers' two organising terms might lack in elegance they make up in the rhetorical effectiveness of their decentring conceit: again and again we are trained through these terms and the discussion they organise to think both of the centrality of sound and of musical or music-like processes in much of this work, and of the ways in which this art-music puts norms of performance, space and so on, into question.

Sounding the Gallery therefore attempts with its two central terms, and the manifold historical arguments they signpost, to provide a corrective to what Rogers sees as the neglect in the video art literature of the musical or music-like aspects of video works, and in particular of the ways in which their spatial reconfigurations, intermedial explorations, and sonic and visual innovations might be seen to present new aesthetic and political possibilities. …

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