Go to the beat | View of Potrero

Aura Satz, Tone Drone (2014). See the sound at KADIST San Francisco. Seeing Sound is organized by Barbara London and produced by Independent Curators International (ICI). Photo: Jeff Warrin

KADIST, an artistic organization founded in Paris, France, which promotes interdisciplinary work, exhibits See the sound, a mix of sound and video art, in his 20th Street gallery. Organized by Barbara London, advocate of sound art since the 1970s, the series begins in San Francisco before traveling internationally. Three distinct modes of contemporary sound art are presented in three spaces.

London artist Aura Satz’s Tone drone, 2014, is shown in the front room. The room is so banal that it could easily be missed: two armchairs placed on either side of a telephone stand. Visitors are invited to sit and pick up the rotary-style telephone, which broadcasts a recorded conversation between electronic music innovators Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016) and Laurie Spiegel (born 1945). Chat can also be accessed from any device by dialing 833-764-1221.

In the recording, Oliveros and Spiegel discuss sound and art, atop the incessant buzz of a tone. Their conversation is a kind of introduction to the rest of the exhibition, offering viewers concepts and language around sound art. “Our body is a form of mediation”, says one of the speakers, referring to the way in which sound acts on the mind, a statement which serves as the thesis for the exhibition. The portable nature of the work questions the influence of place on the way art is experienced. How could the interpretations change if one listened to the recording while walking on the beach, rather than sitting in the gallery?

The second room contains the works of New York composer Marina Rosenfeld Desks, 2019, a set of sculptural desks, acoustic panels and microphones. Cables snake along the gallery floor from the microphones to a mixer. A laptop computer connected to the card is equipped with software that records, mixes, and spits out sound clips in random order. Navigating the facility and hearing your own movements and words is a sonar-like experience. Interaction with the room creates an increased self-awareness of the viewer’s own body, as their presence in the room is amplified over the speakers.

To see in the projection room of the east gallery Muted Situation # 2: Muted Lion Dance, 2014, a seven and a half minute video by Hong Kong artist Samson Young. The film shows a troupe of dancers performing the traditional Chinese lion dance, typically performed during Lunar New Year celebrations and weddings. The setting is black box theater, with an emphasis on costumed performers. The conventional percussive accompaniment is notably absent, replaced by a recording of the rhythmic steps and heavy breathing of the dancers inside their lion costumes. The soundtrack of the dancers’ efforts gives the piece a visceral quality and makes viewers hyper-aware of their own inertia in the face of the work.

Each of the pieces relied on a collaboration in its making, with viewers becoming a part of that relationship. The staging of the exhibits encourages dynamic engagement – sitting, walking – while each work uses sound to orchestrate movements, tuning visitors’ awareness to their own bodies.

See the sound is on view at KADIST San Francisco, 3295 20th Street, until July 24.

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