Video artist puts American experience into music | At Smithsonian Institution


A new exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) is open to the public not just to see, but to listen to, feel and dance to.

“Musical Thinking: New Image Art and Sound Strategies” is the museum’s first major exhibition of time-based media art in eight years. It showcases the latest works of ten leading contemporary artists in the field, including film, video, audio and digital technology. unfold with the passage of time.

SAAM Time Media Curator Saisha Grayson, who organized the exhibition, said that since she began her work in 2018, the works in the museum’s collection seemed to have a strong musical component – from jazz to hip-hop – to the point of hosting an exhibition of the work It seems natural that each piece uses music-making strategies in its own way. While music is a thread that ties the recently acquired works together, significant efforts are being made to make the sounds reach the widest possible audience, including the deaf and hard of hearing. This means not only are there movie subtitles, QR codes pointing to visual descriptions and ASL explanations, but the museum is also using haptic technology in new ways so that musical vibrations can be felt intensely on benches that feature groundbreaking technology. They’ve been called “butt kickers.”

Video artist puts American experience into music

“When the Spirit Moves Them, They Are Moved” by Mariam Ghani and Erin Ellen Kelly,” 2019. Installation Photography Musical Thinking: New Video Art and Sound StrategiesSmithsonian American Art Museum, 2023.

Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum; Photo by Albert Ting

Things started off well, however, with a room dedicated to “When the Spirit Moved Them, They Moved,” a show by filmmaker Maryam Ghani and choreographer Erin Ellen Kelly. The three-channel video installation in the Place series recreates an imaginary dance in the 19th-century Shaker Village in rural Pleasant Hill, Kentucky.

Surprisingly, this is one of three references to past Shaker communities in the exhibition. The other two appear in Cowling Smith’s video art piece, which features a reading by black Shaker elder Rebecca Cox Jackson, and in a scene from the Los Angeles sculpture Watts Towers, which sees upstate New York Shakers. Cemetery shot. Smith’s two films, one of which is accompanied by a slow-moving disco ball, also celebrate the music of jazz pianist and harpist Alice Coltrane and her Hindu spiritual journey.

Video artist puts American experience into music

Simon Lee’s Cabinet eight. installation photography Musical Thinking: New Video Art and Sound StrategiesSmithsonian American Art Museum, 2023.

Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum; Photo by Albert Ting

Another artist duo, Simone Leigh and Liz Magic Laser, released the 9-minute video Breakdown, which features mezzo-soprano Alicia Hall Moran Moran powerfully addresses the silly lines in television and movies depicting “female hysteria.” She is also represented in a large sculpture by Leigh, Cabinet eighta female figure with outstretched arms and open spout.

Grayson said one of the goals in planning Musical Minds was to “create an experience that emphasized a large number of media works, but was not one black box after another; the physical experience was specific to each intention of the work.

Video artist puts American experience into music

Christine Sun Kim, Roux’s Lullaby of the Week, 2018, seven tracks; Sound, Smithsonian American Art Museum, purchased by the museum through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment Fund, 2020.79.1

© 2018 Christine Sun Kim.Courtesy of the artist and François Ghebaly, Los Angeles

So while many works have their own screening rooms, others stand in the gallery and can be viewed individually.Take Christine Sun Kim’s listening stool as an example Roux’s Lullaby of the WeekVisitors use headphones to listen to seven soothing songs written for her newborn babies.And then there’s Martine Gutierrez’s three-minute video clubbing Full participation requested. In the film, the artist shows himself in various forms dancing to pulsating club music. Visitors are invited to dance together on the illuminated dance floor.

Grayson said many people did. “I’ve seen some really wonderful interactions – everything from whole families to what I thought might be bachelorette parties, all the girls trying to learn dance,” she said. “The first day we opened, we had a wheelchair user spinning there, so it felt very affirming.”

Video artist puts American experience into music

Adel’s West Side Story is upside down, backwards, sideways and out of focus. installation photography Musical Thinking: New Video Art and Sound StrategiesSmithsonian American Art Museum, 2023.

Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum; Photo by Albert Ting

Those drawn to Musical Minds to watch the music videos that once dominated MTV may find their closest connection in Arthur Jafa’s striking 2016 effort Love is the message, the message is death, which features rapid-fire images of the black experience in America, set to the music of Kanye West’s gospel-tinged song “Ultralight Beam.”The walls of Jaffa’s restaurant are covered in a collage of hundreds of postcard-sized images vertex mesh The same effect can be achieved minus the music.

Visitors may need to bend down to see the smallest works: “West Side Story” upside down, backwards, sideways and out of focus Created by the late artist ADÁL, a video embedded in the suitcase blends scenes from the 1961 popular musical with real-life documentary footage of Puerto Rican struggles, with a soundtrack composed by Tito Puente.

Video artist puts American experience into music

crow chacon, Suitable for Zitkála Šá series (for Ange Loft), 2020, Lithograph, paper and image on paper: 11 in × 8 1⁄2 in (27.9 × 21.6 cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum through the Julia D. Strong Endowment Fund Purchased, 2022.7.

© 2019-2020, Crow Chacon

Some of the music is presented visually through original scores done in unusual notations. Inspired by Sioux composer Zitkála-Šá, Diné composer Raven Chacon uses arrows instead of musical notes to perform a score that pays homage to contemporary Native women musicians. 2015 film shows “performance” of Chacon’s 2001 work Reportwhich choreographs the gunshots of a series of shooters arrayed behind music stands.

Video artist puts American experience into music

Christine Sun Kim, The Star-Spangled Banner (Section 3)2020, charcoal on paper, overall: 58 1⁄4 × 58 1⁄4 in. (148 × 148 cm) frame: 60 3⁄4 × 60 3⁄4 in. (154.3 × 154.3 cm), Smithsonian Museum of American Art, museum purchases and acquisitions through the Asian Pacific American Initiative Pool managed by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center and the Julia D. Strong Endowment, 2021.31.1

© 2020, Christine Sun Kim.Courtesy of the artist and François Ghebaly, Los Angeles

Christine Sun Kim performed an American Sign Language interpretation of the national anthem at the 2020 Super Bowl, showing off the same type of large notation sheet she made in preparation for the game, which included the national anthem’s more controversial but rarely heard verses. Stanza three mentions slavery. Another of Kim’s works, a 25-minute video titled Read carefullyshows what happens when friends are invited to provide subtitles for a partially blurred movie, e.g. addams family arrive little mermaid. Viewers can see suggested subtitles next to the actual subtitles for each scene.

It was Kim’s connection to Gallaudet University’s Moving Light Laboratory, which develops new technologies relevant to Deaf culture, that led the team there to collaborate with SAAM to develop four Bench equipped with a unique tactile system. The benches, marked by blue lights, bring movement and vibration to the sounds heard by others so that deaf visitors can sit and feel the music.

“Incorporating touch into audio interpretation is… something I don’t know has been done in an art context before,” Grayson said.

Video artist puts American experience into music

Martina Gutierrez Clubbing. installation photography Musical Thinking: New Video Art and Sound StrategiesSmithsonian American Art Museum, 2023.

Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum; Photo by Albert Ting

Melissa Malzkuhn is the creative director of Motion Light Lab, which previously created the first ASL-to-English bilingual storybook app to support literacy development, among other innovations. “This was a natural fit for us, our curiosity and our drive to explore new ways to create inclusive experiences,” she said.

“There’s always a challenge when you think it’s something completely unknown,” Malzkuhn, who is third-generation deaf, said of the low-frequency sensors known as “butt-kickers.” “We now know that we didn’t really anticipate how people would respond to touch. Accessibility actually makes the experience better for everyone.

Video artist puts American experience into music

Martina Gutierrez, clubbing2012, HD video, color, sound, 03:06 minutes, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase, 2021.23.2

“Musical Thinking” is the first exhibition held in the modern and contemporary art gallery on the third floor of SAAM three years after its construction was suspended. When it fully reopens on September 22, with sightlines redesigned and walls taller to accommodate larger works, there will be a permanent area on the floor dedicated to the museum’s collection of time-based media, which currently numbers around 160 piece of work.

The term covers film and video art, but also includes video games, what Grayson calls “algorithm-driven cinematic works,” and the museum’s most famous time-based media work, a work by Nam June Paik electronic highwaymusic and video flash, representing the 50 states, outlined in neon.

“Musical Thinking: New Video Art and Sound Strategies” will be on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., through January 29, 2024. Accessibility Guidelines and a Free digital catalog Available online.

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