"Ensemble": Institute of Contemporary Art

By Galvez, Paul | Artforum International, November 2007 | Go to article overview

"Ensemble": Institute of Contemporary Art


Galvez, Paul, Artforum International


"Ensemble" was a musical composition in the guise of an exhibition and was best experienced first with one's eyes closed. This asked something rather unusual of the viewer, demanding that he or she stand in the middle of the gallery, forget about contemplating individual works, resist for a moment the urge to manipulate them, and give in to pure sound. Why? Because the twenty-seven contraptions assembled by curator Christian Marclay at the Philadelphia ICA were not mute objects but sound-making devices, either mechanically driven or manually activated.

Think of "Ensemble" as an ongoing interactive performance with at least three possible variations. The first of these involved listening to the show alone, concentrating on the output of those machines that need no human presence to activate them, such as the tinkling of Angela White's three turntables and michael Jackson, 2007, the unexpected thump of Noah Sheldon's Perpetual Chimes and Shells, 2006, the Uzi-like rat-tat-tat of Terry Adkins's Off Minor, 2004, and the intermittent drumming of David Ellis's Trash Talk, 2007. The second variation was best performed by a small group of people, each of whom added to the previous version by "playing" the thirteen works that require audience participation. The resultant whirs (Yoshi Wada, The Alarming Trash Cans, 1987), clickety-clacks (Martin Kersel, Creakers, 2007), ding-dongs (Jim Hodges, the bells/black, 2007), and whooshes (Nina Katchadourian, The Picture Book of Sexual Love, 2007) transformed what was a small chamber piece into a symphony whose volume and rhythm were collectively determined. In the third variation, the arrival of a larger crowd gave rise to a more unruly cacophony. …

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