In March, we shared artist and alumni Gino Ballantyne’s first post about his visit to the GSA Library. Gino returned to the Library in May, and extended his visit to Archives and Collections and the MFA studios, where he made etchings and sound drawings based on his environment.
We’re delighted to share his second blog post about visiting the GSA:
Sound through Time
A heatwave had hit for my second visit to the Glasgow School of Art. My overhanging window from the Apex hotel had a fantastic city view, it made me think of the studio space I shared as a student, which was unfortunately destroyed in the fire. The adjacent greenhouse and the Hen Run both overlooked the city. The small drawings I pushed through the floorboards as a parting gift on my graduation are now an ember in my memory as is the small balsa wood aeroplane stuck in the rafters of the studio, photographed by many tourists.
In the Glasgow School of Art library, publications were either entering or leaving the collection as the new shiny book section juxtaposed with the faded outgoing sale table. Books silently waiting to be newly heard or anticipating their next collector to unfold their personal narrative. One of the new books Per Kirkeby, The trip to the Faroe Isles, which describes Kirkeby’s working process as pages in a diary would echo my week, present tense sound informed by past tense sound echoing the future.
The more I reside in the library the more I begin to visually appreciate the layout, the thought process and stylistic approach in its presentation. Its collection of knowledge reaches out to the GSA community encouraging the development of theoretical and practical conversations, prompting new approaches. When those conversations become a reality the past becomes present and is tied to future promise.
The way that book titles stacked next to one another create forms and the unifying nature of squares set against a variety of formal lines give balance. Yellow library labels create waves and the juxtaposition of angles caused by the interplay of shelves and books add line and shape. Suggesting poetry, sculptural forms, installation, lighting, painted forms, colour fields, usually at the memory’s edge heightened by looking.
The ruins of representation
Capitalism and schizophrenia
Narrating the Catastrophe Philosophy
Dissemination of cosmopolitanism
Grammatology between the blinds
“Twilight of the idols”
Design and content
Legacies of silence
The living witness
At memory’s edge
During my visit to Archives and Collections at the Whiskey Bond I looked at the competition entry of Honeyman and Keppie to build GSA by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. It is a hand written document with a lovely design on the first page, which instantly communicates and sets the style of the Mac. It has a workmanlike description of the cost and reasons behind the submission detailing function and purpose rather than costly frivolities. The library would be placed on the first floor to allow greater accessibility to it, rather than the ground floor as expressed in the conditions of the competition. I recognised and heard the purposeful organic flux and flow of a pure voice.
Competition entry of Honeyman and Keppie to build GSA by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Archives and Collections GSA
I also looked at a print by Utagawa Kunimaro “Picture of Domestic Fun: Causing the Coins to Play”. Japanese prints are usually read from right to left. Decoration is used to express an idea and they illustrate a non-linear narrative. The use of varying scale to highlight the importance of a people or buildings is common practice in Japanese art and the use of variable line gives a feeling of solidity, defining shapes and adding coherence. In Japanese design asymmetry is usually expressed through a use of decoration to divide surfaces diagonally. This enabled space to be to be used to balance the diagonal plane in the design. Japanese art thought of music as a pure expression. Art Nouveau echoed this idea and looked for approaches that articulated the pureness of music and its ability to speak to our essence. It is these ideas that underpin the organisation of our experience of the Mac into past tense sound and present tense sound, its energy.
Utagawa Kunimaro “Picture of Domestic Fun: Causing the Coins to Play” Archives and Collections GSA
Two of the basic audio wave shapes include the square wave, and the flowing, sine wave. The way Mackintosh used the square, as the Japanese did to harmonise shape and decorative elements, steadies the noise of ornamentation, balancing the quiet spaces and modulating the flow. Art Nouveau wanted to abolish the hierarchies in art and help it become a community. These intentions prevail in the overall experience of the Mac. Translated into sounds, the noises or notes played are as important as the silences. For me the building emanates sound from the past, its’ momentum and quietly emits the sound of its presence its’ stasis. With the associated arguments related to hierarchies in art prescient in today’s contemporary art market.
At the Whisky Bond I made sound drawings and noticed I was thinking of the presence of sounds and the sounds that had just become absent. This chimed in me, highlighting the concept of Archives and Collections where objects once heard wait to be reheard. This sense helped explain the way we mediate our experience of sounds and give them meaning. The physical energy of sound we collect and archive in our brain, to help expand our knowledge can be used to inform our present tense sound. Informed by intuition, imagination, faith and memory is it possible to give voice to the emotional state we encounter, and our sense of the world as individuals. In the present tense we give shape and reason to it informing more clearly our past tense sound. The past and present continuously intertwined, a feedback loop sharing our knowledge of sound and how we interpret it.
Nine paintings by Neil Dallas Brown I was saddened to discover were lost in the fire. Fortunately they were recorded digitally for archives and collections. Neil was a truthful artist not a stalwart to fashion and obsessively trod his own path. Art was his soul and painting was his faith. He was my tutor and he had the ability to make you feel as if he was talking to a fellow artist. I own one of his paintings and the energy and the feedback loop it emits is never dulled.
Figure(Ulster) oil on canvas 1980 Neil Dallas Brown
The day before my visit to the Whisky Bond I was listening to student singers at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, competing in a competition for the “Jean Highgate Scholarship for Singing”. Two wonderfully emotive and personal renditions stood out for me. Charlotte Heslop a Mezzo-soprano who sung “Soon” a poem by Vikram Seth set to music by Jonathan Dove, it is about a man dying of AIDS. Charlotte’s dramatically interior and sensitive psychological force shone out. Death becomes the absence of sound and love for his life the presence of it. Echoed in the last two lines of the song.
“Love me when I am dead
And do not let me die.”
Ted Black the winner of the scholarship sang “Kaddisch” from 2 Mélodies hébraïques by Maurice Ravel it uses an Aramaic text from the Jewish prayer book. As Ted sang a persuasive feedback loop between him and the audience began as they sensed his completeness in praise to god, his voice an invocation. I sensed a rapport from the audience emitting personal recognitions of the sadness and beauty in his orison.
Watching these singers I began to see possibilities to translate my drawings into organized sound. I thought of the late paintings by Rembrandt. These paintings are full of sound the handling of the paint and the way he thinks about what art is a feedback loop for the past tense and for the present tense. One of his paintings “Self Portrait With Two Circles” shows him staring straight at us looking deep into our eyes speaking directly to us. The circles in this self-portrait has puzzled and perplexed many. My view is Rembrandt is discussing life and death and ideas about reality. Firstly, the two empty circles are Rembrandt’s son Titus and his partner Hendrickje Stoffels, both died between 1962 – 1968. Secondly they act as a reference to Descartes idea “I think, therefore I am”. Descartes was a French mathematician, scientist and philosopher who died in 1650. The circles are empty spaces of doubt asking where are they? where have they gone? who were they? do they still exist? and finally, is this life real? Rembrandt seems to say I doubt my world but that must mean I exist. He is human and real and mirrored we see our own frailties and doubts in the careworn features of a man facing rejection, poverty and imminent mortality. For the viewer the painting exists and his worth as a painter is genuine and we can see, feel, touch and hear that. And who are you is his parting voice?
“Self Portrait With Two Circles” Rembrandt 1965 – 1969
Painting has become an unfashionable medium due to the strictures imposed by contemporary art, which tends to favour other mediums. Browsing a book on Rothko’s paintings I found a student note, in full capitals (shouting out) “INGREDIENTS TO MAKE A PAINTING” It was in answer to Rothko’s written statement about making a painting. It made me smile and reminded me of that famous quote loudly and ambiguously attributed to Paul Delaroche “Painting is Dead”. “Ingredients to make a painting” fits the Mannerist painting method prevalent today a type of Structuralism with its anti historical approach closely followed and antagonised by the Post Structuralists. They work with similar messages of human activity, one is the search for underlying patterns the other for a structure with opposing thoughts. Arcane discussions using singularities in their argument and devoid of past tense and present tense sound earnestly looking to create future sounds. Prescriptions.
In the contemporary art world a berating voice is used to censor the “relevance” of painting as a medium of choice. Contemporary art clings onto its Mannerist singularity the cutting edge idea and collectively its advocates echo accepted vehicles for its expression. After all if you can get someone to buy the must have, which is on a waiting list and only those judged worthy of buying them can have one, you create the must have object. Unfortunately contemporary art has become a capitalist unionised commodity market brashly sounding out about its own value, “hot and emerging” is its rallying call, great slogan for the markets it means big short term profits to be made. Hyped markets are unequal and I like to think those unfashionable obsessive artists out of kilter with their age will continue to make art and become the future sounds waiting to be discovered by new audiences. Van Gogh, Vermeer, Gaugin, El Greco, Cezanne were past tense sounds who become present tense sounds. I look forward to those new future sounds.
I began to ask if I needed to make bespoke drawing tools to emphasise a sound? Or, were there certain processes that would work best to express a particular type of sound? “Biophilia” an album released by Bjork in 2011 does this. Music is meaning, and the experiences of nature and how to use technology to define the specific sounds is at its core. This making of new instruments to create sounds reflecting nature, and the use of musical structures, related to the phenomenon in the songs, further defined by the technological resources helped me to consider potential ways of developing drawings for sound in space.
In the MFA and lithography studios were I spent time making drawings I sensed these questions taking shape. The tearing, scraping, ripping, scratching, scrubbing, doors closing and opening and crashing sounds set against the moments of complete quiet, interrupted by conversations which would break out. These sounds became incorporated with my thoughts on man’s inhumanity to man recently stirred by the violent images I had looked at in the library. They were photographs showing the destroyed landscape and human victims in Vietnam of the defoliant Agent Orange (equal mix of two herbicides 2,4,5-T and 2.4-D), and photographs of victims of the Atom bombs code named “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan.
I’ll never experience or want to experience what these victims did. But I certainly have a different set of notes and sounds in my head for the term “defoliant” and “nuclear family”. How does one depict the sound of chemical warfare or an atomic explosion. Only those who experienced it can answer.
8.15 a.m. in Hiroshima on August 6th 1945 was a usual day by 8.16 a.m. it had changed forever. The Enola Gay B-29 bomber named after the pilots mother dropped the atom bomb “Little Boy”. It all sounds so ordinary but the cacophony and complexity of the sound waves that this moment created are unfathomable and the victims incalculable.
Look at that!
Alive and dead
Rebecca Oliva shared with me a podcast about ice skating, in it a judge said “it wasn’t just about looking when she gave a skaters mark, she listened to the contact of the skates on ice”. This reminded me that sound drawings are specific to experiences and our perception of them, then how we redefine that relationship to make a concept that viewers might be able to recognise.
Mark Rothko said,
“If people want sacred experiences they will find them here.
If they want profane experiences they’ll find them too.
I take no sides”.
Rembrandt gave meaning to the existence of man with all his frailties, doubts and symbols of reality.
In some small way we all try to make sense of our position in the world. The resonance of Sound reverberates through time and space, loudly and silently modulating emotionally and intellectually.
I finished my week by making drawings in the Reid building drinking coffee and listening to the world of sound trying to make sense of the complexities of its rich and heavy “tapestry”
Bibliography, References, and illustrations
Agent Orange, “Collateral Damage” in Vietnam. Philip Jones Griffiths, published by Tolley ltd 2003
Living Hiroshima, Doman Ken, Tsukiji Shokan and Co Ltd, Tokyo 1975
Per Kirkeby, Rejsentil, Faeroerne, Brondum, 2016
Mark Rothko: The Late Series. 2008
“INGREDIENTS TO MAKE A PAINTING” anonymous student
“Soon” a poem by Vikram Seth set to music by Jonathan Dove
“Kaddisch” from 2 Mélodies hébraïques by Maurice Ravel