Sunday, October 29, 2006

Audio Guides - von Hahn's perspective

The other day I made a comment on the Gnostic World of Candy Minx on the post entitled "Does Art Live in Syriana", which contains an interview with curator David Moos. My comment took aim at the bizarre sight of a gallery full of people with sound sticks stuck to their heads at the Warhol exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Tuffy P. was reading yesterday's Globe this afternoon and pointed me to an excellent column by Karen von Hahn, called Museo-tainment. She writes, "At the same time that the guide makes a museum more accessible to its audience, it also manages to dominate the converstaion between the viewer and the art, while virtually eliminating interaction between viewers." As well, she writes about a most scary situation, a "soundwalk" at the Louvre, narrated by an actor from the movie version of The Da Vinci Code, for only 10 euros.

Apparently, Karen von Hahn had a similar experience to me and Tuffy P at the Warhol show: "What turned out to be more chilling than the show was watching distracted crowds wandering past the works, not looking at them, or speaking to one another, deperately trying to understand the visuals via clunky cellphones pressed to one ear." In the case of the Warhol exhibition, it seemed to me that there was what seemed to be a desperation to add to the already packaged exhibition at the AGO. I have no idea what Mr. Cronenberg said in his canned blurb, because I chose to experience the show without the sound stick on my ear.

This isn't just happening in art museums. Not so long ago, on visits to Memphis and Nashville music museums, we found some institutions were set up to be specifically geared to experiencing through similar listening devices. You stand in front of an exhibit, listen to the blurb or the song snippet, then dutifully move to the next exhibit. I'm not against receiving additional information at museums. Once in a while, I even appreciate an old fashioned human tour guide (like the one we had at the Gibson Guitar factory while in Memphis).

As a painter, I'm happy for my work to interact with an audience all by itself. I don't feel the need to explain my work to anyone, and I hope that people bring their own life experiences to the work, and find their way in any way they can - and if some people aren't interested, well that's OK too. Curators have an intrinsic need to mess with this experience. They take work and put it in context and suggest certain ways of looking at it. I'm OK with that, as long as they do so at a distance. The soundsticks are over-the-top. In the comments to the Moos interview, Minx says, "Curators are in the business of preserving imagination. And artists are in the business of using imagination." When Tuffy and I were in Sintra, Portugal recently we came across an interesting comment from painter Francis Bacon: "Art should deepen the mystery." Nuff said.


L.M. said...

Interestingly enough, some artists I know had a negative reaction to Janet Cardiff's audio walks for that same reason, even though she is conscious of this manipulation and works with it. For the record I preferred her "Forty-Part Motet" piece from 2001. (as a matter of fact I think its brilliant and lovely in a million ways.)

Candy Minx said...

Wow, that's interesting that this is being talked about and written about. Maybe it takes using these inventions to find out if we like usuing them or not. I think the tapes and listening devices are okay...but why should they be enorce? Why not have it as an option. I think the answer to this as in most things in life...follow the money. The cost of producing these devices makes it so everyone has to rent them when they pay admission. Instead, let it be an option. Go see an exhibit, go back and then listen to the recording.

That was hilarious about Reno narrating the Louvre tour. Oh my god, I almost spit my drink.

The thig is, the bare bones exposure to art and literature in schools should be the lesson of be rigorous in your observations of the world, stories images. Even if no one was ever to practice art work as an classes aren't just for learning technique. They are an opportuity to learn how to rigorously think. Same as reading. But instead we have these classes that memorize dates and genres so that testing can be monitied for some packaged sense of measuring a teachers worth. And it only gets worse by university. The pressure to market education means we have focused on one manner of measuring tangible learning. Visual and audio literacy helps ALL professions. Not just the performers.

Any one should be able to leave high school and know the tradition of circles or bass notes in human communication.


Tim said...

Agree 100%.