Image: Shiva and Parvati in Conversation; Shiva on His Vimana (Aircraft) with Himalaya, Folio 53 from the Shiva Rahasya, 1827, Jodhpur, opaque watercolor and gold on paper, 16 1/2 × 45 5/8 in., Mehrangarh Museum Trust, photo: Neil Greentree.
Hey there! It’s Natalie Dupille, SAM’s newest PR intern. I’m excited to be working here, and even more excited for tomorrow—and not just because June 1 is my 21st birthday. Tomorrow is Remix, SAM’s hippest quarterly event, and it promises an evening jam-packed with performances, talks, dancing, DJs, and more.
I’m totally intrigued by Seattle band Midday Veil, who will be fusing mesmerizing, hypnotic rock meditations and vibrant projections to grace us with unique multimedia performances at 9:00 and 10:45 pm in the South Hall. On top of that, there’s the collaborative music and art installation by SAM and Olson Kundig Architects, inspired by the Theaster Gates exhibition, which runs through July 1. Join us in the Chase Open Studio, where, in addition to listening stations and hands-on activities, DJ Riz presents the Stairway to Vinyl Listening Party, where he’ll spinning LPs from the Record Store’s robust collection of records throughout the evening.
Remix is also a great opportunity to check out SAM’s newest exhibit, Ancestral Modern, an exuberant exhibition of contemporary art from one of the world’s oldest living cultures that includes more than 100 artworks created by Australian Aboriginal artists in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Cellist Paul Rucker will be creating “Sonic Interpretations” live in Ancestral Modern at 9:15 and 10:30 pm tomorrow, a surefire way to experience an already rousing exhibition.
Having never before attended Remix, I am thrilled to not only be able to attend, but also to be a part of this exciting event. Looking forward to all that and more, hopefully my enthusiasm is contagious, and I will see you there!
PS- The first 50 people in rainbows get in for free. Rock that ROYGBIV!
There is a display in SAM Downtown’s Wright & Runstad Gallery for African Art holding two pairs of sculptures that provide a transcendent view of “togetherness” and what it means for the spiritual to be connected with the earth. The first is a pair of “Male and Female figures” made by the Baule of central Cote d’Ivoire. The painted wood sculptures represent spirit spouses that inhabit another world parallel to this one, and are prescribed by diviners to promote a healthy living situation between spouses. Imbued with power by the diviner each sculpture is given individual attention by its client in order for the power to be activated. Beside this pair resides a set of Congolese harps carved with faces at the end of their long curving necks to keep their players company and watch their every move. Atop flexed, carved legs their bellies would be filled with sound as the harp couple was played by two musicians travelling as a pair. During their travels the performers recited history as their livelihood and sang legendary epics.
Taken together these objects bring to mind the exhibit Theaster Gates: The Listening Room where objects form a collective history and repurposed materials find new meaning as art. The collection of records taken from Chicago’s now defunct Dr. Wax record store reminds me of the spirit spouses who are deserving of more attention. Giving attention to the records in SAM’s twice monthly DJ sets in the Listening Room (come listen next week May 3 & 6!) has allowed people in our community to come together at SAM through music. Although the spirit spouses must be decommissioned of their power by the diviner before they enter the museum the enduring coolness in their expressions continues to give meaning to their remedial function. Similarly the decommissioned fire hoses lining the walls of the Listening Room evoke memories of the civil rights movement in the 1960s where protestors were sprayed with these high pressure hoses during race riots. Our collective memory is jarred by Theaster Gates who saw value in an art object where others saw scrap material.
Considering this communal environment brings up another project Theaster Gates is involved with – the upcoming performance of “red, black & GREEN: a blues” coming to the Intiman Theater for Seattle Center’s Next 50 festival 30 May – 2 June. The performance is collaborative and interactive, written for the stage by performer, activist, and educator Marc Bamuthi Joseph. Bamuthi is working with a host of talented artists including set design by Gates. Click here to learn more about Marc Bamuthi Joseph and the Living Word Project and watch videos on the performance “red, black & GREEN: a blues.”
The central question addressed by Bamuthi is, “what sustains life in your city?” This is something he asked many people through the Life is Living festivals he has curated since 2008 in various U.S. cities and forms the inspiration that went into writing “red, black & GREEN: a blues.” By incorporating “the voices of people often left out of discussions about living green,” this conversation on the environment succeeds where others have fallen short, and actively seeks a reimagining of where we place value in our community.[i] This forms a collective experience that, through the stories Bamuthi has engaged and the recycled materials of Theaster’s set inspired by row houses, express our social ecology with power, grace, and rhythm. The success of this performance comes from the belief that “ultimately we are interdependent and stronger through collaboration,” which, like the Congolese harps and Ivorian spirit spouses, helps us maintain good relations and feel connected with the earth.
-Ryan R. Peterson, Curatorial + Community Engagement Intern
[i] Source: Mapp international productions website. Artist proframs, artists and projets, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, red, black & GREEN: a blues. Last accessed 24, April, 2012. http://mappinternational.org/programs/view/214
Top photo: “Male and Female Figures,” wood, paint, Ivorian, Baule & “Pair of Harps,” wood, skin, fabric, Congolese, Ngbaka. Photograph by the Author. Taken 4/24/12. JPEG file.
We’ve all been swept away by the ability of an album to evoke memories, ideas, or particular moods. How does the design of an album cover relate to the music and how do music and cover together evoke these memories, ideas, and moods? In the Theaster Gates: the Listening Room exhibition the wall of records is an aesthetic display of the importance of visual imagery to the music we listen to. I can pick up any of these records and attempt to date the year it was released and the type of music that will be heard on the album. Just from looking at the album cover I have an idea formed for what I’m about to experience and something visual to stimulate more thoughts as I listen to the music.
Stan Gets’ “Another Time, Another Place” and Teena Marie’s “Robbery” and are examples of records that tie my ideas of trends popular in an era to the music and design that characterize this era.
What associations do we have of visual designs, colors, and images to musical rhythms? There’s a whole set of abstract visual artists (past and contemporary) who base their design on connecting to some sort of musical rhythm, or spiritual rhythm of which they believe music and visual art are the expressions. Examples of this connection between music and visual art are Wassily Kandinsky’s “Composition” paintings or the intimate relationship between jazz music and visual artists. I would say a musical rhythm relates to emotions, but we all feel emotional sways a little differently and we have different dreams and myths that we associate with certain emotions, music and imagery. Where do we find the overlap between each of our personal dreams and associations to a type of music and imagery?
Critical discussions around trends in artistic and cultural media play a game of informing and being informed by music of an era. These criticisms impact our own experience of music as well. I don’t think the whole arena of critical review and genre categorization hold only arbitrary value, but I wonder what key effects in a song or an album do we agree make it interesting to discuss? How does the social climate affect our experience with music? How does an album or song become iconic or timeless? What does this record collection tell us about certain times in our communal history and our personal relationship to this history?
These are the sorts of questions that Theaster Gates: The Listening Room brings up for us to think about and discuss together. Think about what ideas, fantastical or historical, are evoked in you the next time you listen to something that someone recommends to you, or that you find in a store. Why is this record valuable to remember? What about its album design tells us about when the album was released and the cultural history it represents?
It’s the feeling you get from hearing music that makes you want to dance, the break in a revolving and evolving drum beat, even a familiar routine that puts you “in the groove.” Of the many definitions one is a reference to those small indentations, or grooves, on a vinyl record that, when it spins, give the needle a track to run on and produce a musical groove. Jazz musicians’ use of the term refers to hearing one musician’s seemingly effortless playing, and can be heard in the context of “that cat’s deep in the groove.” This is itself a reference to listening to records and the needle’s ability to dig even further into the vinyl at that moment in time.
The Commodores. “Movin’ On.” 1975. Photo by the author. 13 April, 2012. JPEG file.
You can also see grooves expressed in the rhythmic patterns of visual art. This happened to me on a Friday morning at SAM as I explored the collection of Australian & Oceanic Art in SAM’s Theiline Pigott McCone Gallery. I wasn’t searching for grooves in particular, but looking closely at the elongated hollow log coffins in the Aboriginal Art collection and seeing the striated line work carefully drawn in steady rhythmic cadences I suddenly thought of the grooves both musical and pressed into vinyl records across the museum in the Listening Room’s record archive.
Hollow log coffins, dupun, from central and eastern Arnhemland, Australia. Photo by the author. 13 April, 2012. JPEG file.
These groups of tall Eucalyptus logs signify a place for “sorry business,” and describe how the Yolnu, native to Australia’s East and Central Arnhemland, practice remembering deceased members of their community in a very different way from ours in the West. During the ceremony bones of the deceased are placed in the logs during ritual dances known as Dupun. The log coffins have been naturally hollowed out by termites, and are then left to the elements following the ceremony. Yolnu artists cover the logs in images of the country and designs of the clan of the deceased using a brush made of long human hair.
detail of Rirratjingu Larrakitj, (clan coffin). 2003. Wanyubi Marika. Photo by author. 13 April, 2012. JPEG file.
The grooves I saw covering the log coffins, the interlocking white lines, represent “deep knowledge, sea foam and ribbons of tide.” Bones are infused into the log coffins of the Yolnu to connect deceased people back into the land. I see a further connection here with Theaster Gates: The Listening Room in that both records and the hollow log coffins provide an archive of shared history on aural and visual levels. Both of these customs are contemporary works of art that create and embrace cultural memory and shared history, highlighting the ideas and values of a culture that influenced their design. The jazz in here, or what continues to lure us in, is that they undoubtedly do this with a discernable groove.
-Ryan R. Peterson, Curatorial + Community Engagement Intern
 Mundine, Djon. Quote taken from the information placard relating to the Hollow Log Coffins in SAM’s Theiline Pigott McCone Gallery.
Last photo: detail of Rirratjingu Larrakitj, (clan coffin). 2003. Wanyubi Marika. Photo by author. 13 April, 2012. JPEG file.
Theaster Gates’ Listening Stools, one of the sculptural forms in theexhibit The Listening Room, have helped transform SAM’s Knight-Lawrence Gallery into an open space for music and ideas. Their design may be simple and made from recycled wood, coming from the floorboards of a Chicago police station, but the stools invite visitors to sit, relax, and engage with the art, music and each other. They often lead guests to converse about a record they’re currently holding, and I can’t say how many people have learned to play their first 33 1/3” vinyl record on a turn table while sitting in one of these modest wooden chairs.
Although his artistic training is in ceramics Gates’ sculpted pieces for The Listening Room draw from his seemingly endless resources using recycled lumber as a medium that allows him to transcend artistic traditions and place focus on social engagement through discarded materials-come-art. The Listening Stools are one of these unlikely art objects carrying a history in their structure. Other lumber materials present in the exhibit are the ware board record crates (see below), the original sandwich board from Dr. Wax’s record store made to look like a Japanese Shoji screen, and the entirely recycled wood deejay table faced with a carved wooden altar screen sourced from a defunct Chicago church.
Another example of Gates’ material repurposing is his Temple Exercises (2009) at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, which constructed a temple-like structure from modular ware boards from the abandoned Wrigley Gum factory in the heart of Chicago. This became a site for spiritual exercises and performance by groups such as Gates’ own ensemble, the Black Monks of Mississippi. The same Wrigley ware boards are used in the Listening Room for the record crates that accompany the turntable in the middle of the gallery in which visitors are invited to peruse records and listen in on headphones at any time during museum hours.
“I’m one person,” says Gates, “one whole person who thinks about friendship and neighborliness and God as much as I think about object making.” His chairs achieve the sense of transformation that Gates’ work self-consciously seeks to convey. Inherent in this transformation is the vinyl vertebrae lining the back wall of the gallery: Dr. Wax’s Record Archive. Entering the gallery for the first time viewers are perhaps not expecting to see a long shelf of records and deejay table. Set into the back wall Dr. Wax’s records are joined with the musical sounds that can be heard emanating from the gallery before visitors even enter the space. They are immediately faced with the aural and visual qualities of this kinesthetic installation and find themselves asking the question “How do I engage with this art?” By the time visitors reach the Listening Stools, they have intoned through osmosis the intertwining themes of music, history, politics, and space that are addressed by the exhibit. It is the music’s audio ability to communicate cultural, political, and artistic history to a public willing and able to engage that brings meaning to the lumber-made objects present in the gallery and comes full circle to connect the archive of cultural knowledge to its listeners.
-Ryan R. Peterson, Curatorial + Community Engagement Intern
I’ve had many conversations about the supposed “comeback” of vinyl records throughout my time interning at the Theaster Gates: The Listening Room installation and the Seattle Art Museum Record Store project that was located in Pioneer Square from December 13, 2011 to January 31, 2012 . Being from a younger generation who came of age in the last decade or so, it’s interesting to be engaged in these conversations with people of all generations. It’s as if a reawakening to the objects of records has struck contemporary culture into a jolt of nostalgia and remembrance. People of older generations have expressed sudden excitement to get all their friends to go down into their basements or open closets and shuffle through boxes of old records. This is exactly what we interns did to relocate the 2,000 or so records owned by Bernie Hall to our Record Store; his collection makes up over half of the records included in the Record Store project. It’s as though these objects are buried treasures from long ago, or perhaps tokens of a forgotten past among old metal keys, old photographs, or old newspaper clippings. These records are time capsules of cultural history and each record collection reflects the owner’s personal relationship to this past, their own path through history.
Many in my generation started by discovering records from someone else’s collection before we got into buying our own. In growing up shuffling through our parents’ records, we established a new kind of relationship with these vinyl objects. This younger generational relationship to records is about learning our cultural history through listening to these material recordings of the past, but this is a past we haven’t experienced ourselves. We discovered record albums’ significance to past and present culture through not only listening to their innovative sounds but through the storytelling and literature glorifying the weight these iconic albums hold. From our engagement with these time capsules, our own creation and collection of musical taste developed into the colorful complexity that is contemporary music and culture.
I’ve grown up during the era of post-modern reflection and recycling of past pop-culture. Every decade in the 20th century has its own style and culture and the music of each decade sets the tone of attitude behind the decade’s style of pop-culture. Ordinary objects are stylized by colors, patterns, typefaces, and graphics. I grew up loving the adventure in discovering objects that embody the style of particular decades. I established a permanent love for ‘thrifting’, or object-seeking. I always search for records because they are objects with more than just style; the music narrates ideas and moods of a cultural era and the album cover, through visual design, embodies a link to cultural ideas and moods of a period.
Often “thrifters” of my generation have an interest in the era our parents grew up in, and in the exchange of styles from decades before and after. Though records have been reinterpreted as an aesthetic phenomenon, they never lost their historical relevance; their quality and influence continue to inform contemporary culture.
Both collecting the material object and the activity of playing records on a record player are seen as an aesthetic art. In owning physical records, you accumulate a collection that expresses a certain knowledge of aesthetic taste and historical knowledge.
Though not every kid I knew had their own record player, they most likely had someone in their family, if not their parents, who had an appreciation and insight to the timeless quality of vinyl sound and of the quality in the activity of playing a record. There is an art to slowing down and appreciating the music and design of a record, both in exploring the cover and sleeve design, and in setting up the stylus and sitting back to soak up the highest quality analog sound to come from a piece of physical material. It takes patience and agility to gently set up the record player and continuously attend to the player to keep the music playing. My generation grew up defining this experience as cool, sophisticated and well-cultured.
So why the noise about a reawakening and resurgence of an object never really lost of appreciation, let alone lost from sight? Maybe it has something to do with our day and age of uncontrolled digital information exchange and virtual experience of media and culture. The preciousness of a physical material object which holds memories and creativity on record, a vinyl record….this is a treasure that younger generations have rediscovered and desire to collect for their own study of our historical past. Studying these objects allows new generations to impact their own creative intentions by reflecting on and overtly referencing iconographic records. This isn’t a ‘comeback,’ it’s a reinterpretation of these iconic objects that embody music which will always be relevant to future creative culture.
-Paige Smith,Curatorial + Community Engagement Intern
Until recently my attachment to records has been more or less superficial, but when I started buying ethnographic records a couple years ago I began to see how they are loaded with cultural significance for both the listener and the cultures producing them. On one such recording, entitled Afro-Cuban Music from the Roots: Tumba Francesca la Caridad de Oriente (subtitled “percussion and voices traditional and experimental”),I heard how a musical performance can be hugely influential to both the tangible and spiritual elements of a culture’s identity. Now, after being a part of the Record Store project and meeting luminaries such as Seattle’s own DJ Riz, known for his role in the independent radio station KEXP, I can firmly say, and I don’t think I’m alone here, Records are my religion.
Afro-Cuba – Tumba Francesca. 2006. Soul Jazz Records. Personal photograph by author. JPEG file.
Records are an audio phenomenon in a vinyl medium. Vinyl is a medium formatted to articulate a musical vision and in exchange the music acts as the idea-force behind the record. The idea of the neighborhood record store, now often a rare survivor of a former era, is a space with the power to put these receptacles of music’s most essential qualities into the world.
Records are indeed objects of beauty, and I would go further to say they are objects with allure and seduction. We are drawn to the music and what it evokes in us when we put a record on a turntable. Through the attraction we are able to relive familiar moments from the past or become familiar with new musics of the world. Part of this draw is how records allow us to derive pleasure from a listening experience and the recognition of our own “place” in that moment in time.
In the same vein architectural space may be viewed as “a setting into work of truth through recognition and orientation.” To quote the architectural historian Alberto Pérez-Gómez, “the space of architecture, always elusive and mysterious, is the space in which we may perceive ourselves, if only for a moment, as whole.” In his Timaeus Plato names this space the “chora,” or the third element of reality in which we encounter our “other half.” I saw this happen in the Record Store all the time, especially when a slow jam like Bobby Womack’s T.K.O. made its way onto the speakers.
Love Wars by the R&B duo Womack & Womack. 1983. The Listening Room, Seattle, WA. 2 March 2012. Personal photograph by author. JPEG file.
What I see as the real beauty of SAM’s Record Store project is its freedom from monetary distinctions and ability to fully create a Platonic “chora” for anybody who walked through its door. In my own Platonic view – record stores give form to this third dimension of reality in which time becomes endless and determined only by a continuous rotation of sound waves. The neighborhood record store allowed its patrons this perception of completeness through music. I saw this potential realized by one patron of the Record Store who visited almost every day during extended “breaks” away from his job cleaning the streets in Pioneer Square. For him and the rest of us the Record Store became, in the words of Alberto Pérez-Gómez, “a site of resistance against the collapse of desire that drives Modernist technological utopias.”
Reflecting on my time at the Record Store there is no place I could have better pictured myself after coming out of the ethers of academic life. Although the storefront Record Store is in the process of transformation the idea, like the song, remains the same. In fact you will be able to see the Record Store “popping up” again in the future so stay tuned in to the music.
-Ryan R. Peterson, Curatorial + Community Engagement Intern
SAM’s quarterly late-night party Remix is right around the corner and preparations are underway here at SAM. The masterminds behind Remix, Greg Sandoval, Manager of Adult Public Programs, and Erin Langner, Assistant Program Manager in Education and Public Programs, are busy finalizing the exciting programs for this Friday’s festivities. In this interview, the two give a sneak peek of what you’ll find at this Remix!