‘Nightlife’ by Cyprien Gaillard

Nightlife it’s a hypnotising and immersive 3D video-installation created by the French artist Cyprien Gaillard; the spectator can experience a nocturnal hallucinogenic voyage in a post-industrial environment, where trees seem to dance and rebelliously wave against the artificial world surrounding them; the images are followed by a sampled and looped version of Alton Ellis’ song Black Man’s Pride, 1970: the artist looped the section of the song in which the singer says “I was born a looser” making the sentence repeating throughout the whole 14 minutes video. The piece is aesthetically beautiful and entertaining, but with a bit of research we can discover that there’s a lot more behind this brilliant use of technology.

The piece opens with the camera slowly flying around a reproduction of Rodin’s sculpture ‘The Thinker’ placed in front of the Cleveland Museum of Art, badly damaged during an act of protest in 1970 against Vietnam War and white man supremacy. Later in the video the camera moves around exploding colourful fireworks shot from the Olympiastadion, the massive stadium in Berlin that hosted the Olympic games of 1936, during Nazi campaign; the event became history for the victory of Jesse Owens, an Afro-American athlete who won 4 gold medals; the Olympic committee gave an oak sapling for each gold medal, an ancient symbol of Germany.

The camera then, flies back to the dark streets of Cleveland focusing on a massive leafless tree placed in the yard of a building that surrounds it; the tree is enlightened by a flashing light similar to the ones used by helicopters during police chases; it appears to be highlighted as it was the superstar of the piece, the main character, and probably it is: the tree is indeed an oak planted by Jesse Owens after the Olympics in the yard of Rhodes High School in Cleveland. In this final shot, the song switches to the version of 1971 where the sentence was changed in “I was born a winner”.

The piece works even if the spectator’s not aware of the complex and symbolic historical narrative; watching the video, in a dark room with good speakers and active 3D glasses, creates a very immersive experience; the song is also variously philtred, creating a shifting and waving sonic space that perfectly matches the air-induced movement of the trees.

After doing this research, I watched it a second time noticing that the installation is not just rich of beauty and allure, it is also permeated with a profound meaning.


‘Everything and More’ by Rachel Rose

Everything and More is the name of the eleventh piece made by the American artist Rachel Rose; it is and audio-visual installation about the experience of spacewalking that focuses more on the sensory perception rather than the experience itself. In the video we can hear the astronaut David Wolf describing what he felt during the multiple times he went spacewalking; he describes what it’s like to float weightlessly around the Planet’s atmosphere and how he felt his body when he came back to Earth. His story is already quite hypnotising, also the artist tried to recreate this situation using close-up moving images of fluids (like milk, soap and ink) resulting in a slow constant movement that gives us the idea of separation from the body, and even from the real world. There are many other images shot in a neutral buoyancy laboratory (where astronauts are trained for zero gravity). The complexity of this piece resides in rendering an out-of-body experience to the spectators and giving them a strong sense of dispersion and overwhelming. All the images are followed by a remarkable sound work: she manipulated samples from non-verbal vocalisations of Aretha Franklin singing in a church in 1972; she used a spectrograph to remove the sounds of the organ and the crowd inside the chapel leaving just the frequencies of the voice that in the end appears distant and floaty, drifting around the ears of the spectator. Using the software Ableton she was able to see the performance as a waveform and using the spectrograph tool she could, mainly by eye, highlight just the voice of the singer, erasing the rest; she then cut the wordless song into pieces and mixed them together leaving Franklin’s emotional register. I found very interesting the fact that the piece is not just about the sensation of spacewalking, but even about the concept of disembodiment; possibly the piece could also represent a celebration of life itself; what made me think this was the part of the video in which the astronaut described his disoriented sensations as soon as he arrived back to Earth, defining the situation as a “re-birth” experience, as if he had been completely out of his body but still being (in a sense of existing).

‘Transplant and Life’ by Tim Wainwright and John Wynne.

This installation is the third collaborative project between the photographer Tim Wainwright and the sound artist John Wynne; it can be seen inside one of the London’s most curious and (for some) bizarre museums, The Hunterian Museum, that contains the complete collection of the anatomical specimens examined by the surgeon John Hunter. The aim of this installation is to give a voice to the people who have encountered organ transplantation, from patients and their families to donors who helped them; also it wants to move the focus from the heroic surgeons who made transplantations, to the heroic people who dealt with them and survived to tell their stories. Their faces and names are shown in many screens visible at the centre of the museum, while on the second floor we can find a screen room where we can hear their experiences. Those retellings not only bring life inside the museums of dead organs and specimens, also they bring hope and stimulate people to become aware of donating organs. The sound work made by Wynne accompanies the spectator through the whole museum creating a sort of bubble of tranquillity that transforms the visit into a unique experience; in an interview he released to the radio Resonance FM he explained that the sounds he used are related to the persons speaking, for example the recordings of their houses, their gardens or even songs somehow linked to them (Wynne, 2017); knowing this we can have the sensation of feeling closer to the experiences those courageous people. At first we might perceive a contrast between the location and the meaning of the exhibition, but it’s very interesting to see how they actually are strongly linked to each other.


Cildo Meireles ‘Babel’

Babel (2001) is a big sculptural installation that can be seen at the Tate Modern. The piece is shaped as a circular tower made by a multitude of second-hand radios from different generations playing together at their minimum volumes; the radios are also tuned to a variety of different stations creating a continuous and incomprehensible cacophony of sounds (especially when there are not many people inside the room). The installation is narrative and it’s related to the biblical story in which the god was offended by the outrageous action of building a tower tall enough to reach him, causing him to make the builders speak in different languages in order to avoid communication; this event led the workers to a separation, also it became the source of all human conflicts. The tower is placed in a large blue-painted room that enhance the feeling of disarray expressed by the piece. One of the most interesting facts about the piece is that the constant noise is generated by human voices speaking from the radios, not by instruments or radio’s feedback, so the room seems to be crowded (it actually is during the weekends) and it’s not possible to distinguish a singular voice, unless you get a bit closer to a singular radio. Also this installation is different everyday, because the radios are always receiving from the stations they’re tuned in, creating a flow in which the communication looses its proper meaning to acquire an opposite one: confusion.

Philippe Parreno ‘Anywhen’

Anywhen is the name of a gigantic installation created by the French artist Philippe Parreno, under commission of Hyundai Motors; the exhibition can be seen at the Tate Modern inside the Turbine Hall (until April 2 2017). This installation merges many aspects of our contradictory reality, playing with time and space, life and machines, movement and immobility and the idea of a constant and unpredictable changing World. The audience is immersed into a sensory experience induced by ten screens (projecting a variety of different images and videos), plenty of speakers ‘falling’ from the ceiling of the hall (playing different soundscapes) and even flying balloon fishes moved around by air. The key point of this exhibition is that all the events are triggered by a system of bioreactors that read the actions and reactions of microorganisms placed inside a small chamber placed behind the screens; also, the machine reacts to external conditions, such as weather, time and people inside the hall. This piece can be considered as a game with the sense of space perspective and the interaction between life and the inanimate. It also represents life itself in a way: every action in this reality, even the biggest one, is made and decided by smaller events. Experiencing the installation makes you feel as you really are an active component of the surrounding space, a sensation that is not often perceived inside everyday life, especially when we think how small we are compared to the outer space. Also, the building becomes the representation of the World itself, constantly evolving through internal and external factors.

In this video Philippe Parreno presents is piece http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/hyundai-commission/philippe-parreno-anywhen