“Acoustic Architecture...” at De Veemvloer, Amsterdam (2000)

R.J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 3 January 2010
This review first appeared in Sculpture, 19(4), p. 79 in May 2000.

Amsterdam’s Stichting Vedute (Vedute Foundation) recently held the exhibition “Acoustic Architecture— Architectural Acoustics,” which required works to meet specifications set by guest curator Frans Bevers: “[Artists should] visualize their personal preoccupation with sound and space into the confines of 44 by 32 by 7 cm.” Fourteen artists, designers, and composers from France, the Netherlands, and the U.S. exhibited their “3D manuscripts” within a unique exhibition space designed by Peter de Rijk and Thomas Blits. Composed of rectangular platforms, the “stage” itself acted as a spatial container for objects and text.

These size requirements might sound idiosyncratic at the least, but they continue a tradition established in 1991, when two Vedute founding members, Rob Bloem and Peter de Rijk, initiated the form to organize a discussion on architectural space. The results encouraged further explorations, and the size requirement became established— providing both continuity and comparison throughout the collection, which contains 150 manuscripts housed in Vedute’s permanent space. The endeavor, according to Vedute’s Suzanne Styhler and Astrid van Baalen, “makes the concept of spatiality, in its broadest sense, accessible as visualized, materialized thoughts.” “Architectural Acoustics” furthers previous pursuits of element interaction, including space and color, and “time and duality.” The foundation encourages cross-disciplinary experiments and, in this exhibition, it features the manuscript as object, as initiator of sound presence, as site of exciting interplays between sound and space, and as a container for metamorphosis.

With sound, space, and size as reference points, installation artist Jian Ren Zhao offered an expandable Plexiglas work consisting of 10 speakers and gadgetry. In the resulting juxtaposition of nature and technology, the sounds of an unspecified water source confront the technological depiction of circuits. For the Dutch-Chinese artist, the size limits were particularly challenging: “I was concerned about the presentation of the work and wanted to reach the maximum [expandable] size to have a strong visual impact on viewers. Everything needed to open up from the manuscript’s dimensions.”

American composer Bruce Odland used the manuscript’s space as a starting point: three pieces of aluminum lined with felt and four pins, secured by two canvas straps. When constructed, with either an aluminum or felt interior, Hearing House Hat (1999) is placed over the viewer’s head. Two cut-out rectangles— one for an ear and one for an eye— allow for experiencing exterior sight and sound; the two interior textures emphasize contrasting relationships to the form. The piece relates to architecture further by playfully responding to Modernist “boxes.”

Dutch artist Cilia Erens offered a spatial soundwork. Within the manuscript’s “container,” wire caging contains construction/ demolition site materials: red and white caution tape, a piece of broken tile on concrete, yellow safety netting, and two gloves. When opened, the wire cage becomes an abstract safety space with a sound piece intervention. With speakers under the gloves over one’s ears and a cassette player on one’s head, the sounds of a demolition are intensified by the artist-controlled volume. Strangely, the violence of the sound attacks the ears while the viewer is draped with demolition-turned-fashionesque netting.

The manuscripts contain a profound experimental energy. However, viewing the artworks requires a white-gloved attendant, and the “navigation path” is, for the most part, determined by the presenter. Therefore, observing the works’ metamorphosis doesn’t permit a mad-dash art experience; it is time-intensive, and the viewer is forced to look beneath the surface. In this way, this manuscript form addresses “time” and “interactivity” just like art in new technological formats, but it avoids the trappings of consumer-led choice or the sensation of the click. The process is well worth pursuing, and within this sound and space discourse, time for art is magnified and reconsidered.