Voices are an anomaly in the museum. Music may accompany an exhibition as a mood-setting device, when the artworks on display are strongly rooted in a remote historic or cultural context; sound and video installations, however, are routinely separated from the rest of the exhibition, isolated in a room with sound-inhibiting padding at the entrance or in a dark cinematic cube with a projector and some seats. Rarely does one encounter bold displays which fill the space of the museum beyond the visible area of the installation, as was the case with the soundscape installation Forty-Part Motet by Canadian artist Janet Cardiff at the AGO in 2013: music from the installation guided visitors through gallery halls, emanating beyond thematic boundaries of the exhibition space. Ever less present are ordinary voices, which are permitted to resound only in the context of public addresses by curators, guided visits with docents, and at receptions. Even then, the sounds of voices remain separated from the sounds of artworks. Not so at Scrap Metal Gallery.
With Phantom Limbs exhibition, Scrap Metal Gallery presents a daring display of three video works by artists Samuel Beckett, Luis Jacob and Chris Curreri in a unified auditory space. While each video installation is limited by their individual visual boundaries, sound is not. The ensuing display is an interpenetrating soundscape generated by the three video installations, which penetrate and heighten each other’s presence with the muttering voice from Samuel Beckett’s “Not I” resonating with the mechanic sound of the Chris Curreri’s “Bottoms” 16mm film loop, across the central monumental presence of Luis Jacob’s “Without Persons” two-channel video installation. The acoustic interplay of these aesthetically similar works connects the three artistic vectors, otherwise separated by year of creation, from 1975 to 2015. The display was further homogenized at the opening reception, with voices of attendees mixing in the sounds from the videos in a surprisingly harmonious way. Alongside the mesmerizing effect that each video exerts on the viewer, the experience was absolutely unique and surely different from an individual visit at regular hours: as an attendee, I felt the fleeting intensity of each passing moment ever so sharply.
Heightened experience is a particularity of Scrap Metal Gallery: its location in an impasse behind a mix of residential houses and industrial warehouses makes finding the entrance a quest somewhat akin to going through a pile of rubble in search of that rare discarded gem. The gallery’s courtyard is surrounded by mounds of collected metal pieces, assembled in a deliberately randomized picturesque landscape. Scrap Metal Gallery is one of my favorite destination for its bold and playful choices.
*Exhibition information: April 2 – 25, 2015, Scrap Metal Gallery, 11 Dublin Street, Toronto. Special hours: Tue – Sat 11 – 6 p.m.