Mark Bain: Sonic Interventions (2005)

R. J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 25 February 2011
This article was previously published in Sculpture, 24(7), September 2005, pp. 22-3.

Mark Bain

Sometimes Mark Bain produces small earthquakes, sometimes he installs systems to “attack architecture”, and sometimes he releases what look like poetic, alien aircraft into the gallery. These are just three outcomes of his diversified artistic practice, which incorporates sound, three-dimensional forms, architecture, video, and performance. Bain describes his ongoing artistic research as involving “the area of sound and architecture, and how sonic events affect bodies and buildings.” Sculpture plays a key role in his artistic outcomes, particularly as Bain sees sound as having sculptural aspects—how it extends into space, and how it is shaped and modified by space and structural forms, for example, concrete walls.

Mark Bain has had solo exhibitions at the Edith Russ Site for Media Art in Oldenburg, Germany, and W139 in Amsterdam. On the group show front, he has been very active, particularly in Western Europe, participating in exhibitions at De Appel in Amsterdam, the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam, the Musée d’art contemporain in Lyon, MACBA in Barcelona, and the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt. He studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1990) and received an MS in Visual Studies (1998) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Born and raised in Seattle, Bain has lived and worked in Amsterdam since 1999.

R.J. Preece: I was particularly taken by your use of the sphere, since it has a timeless quality, is mysterious, and relates to geometry and outer space— and is sometimes an important element in science fiction films and the subject in futuristic music.

Mark Bain: Yes, I was interested in the sphere as a membrane to contain and radiate sound. Basically sound was pulled from within the ground around the art center via sensors and then transmitted into the sphere with compressed air. The result was that the sphere—shaped like our planet—became like a pulsating balloon, and viewers could hear and “touch” this sound coming from the earth.

R.J. Preece: Could you explain one of your architectural “attacks”?

Mark Bain: My practice also extends into “living systems and investigative devices.” For example, I’ve developed systems that attack architecture in a literal way, as in Projectile system. This is a whole system of metallic tools, chemicals like expansive cracking compounds, and seeds of plant species designed to eat away at architecture and to colonize it. It’s a science fiction way of introducing alien species, sort of a utopian impossibility of changing your environment with small means— a relationship of people at street level to large buildings.

R.J. Preece: Like an architectural virus.

Mark Bain: Exactly.

R.J. Preece: You mentioned that the World Trade Center attack impacted response to your work. Could you explain?

Mark Bain: I was installing the portable earthquake machine, called Geosite, in Tilburg in the south of the Netherlands. This was an underground machine that activated when you entered a designated area. The earth underneath would shake— and the shaking would extend into the surrounding area up to half a kilometer away. The idea of the work was to bring an environmental experience to a place where these actions don’t occur. Because earthquakes are somewhat rare in the Netherlands, this work functioned as a translocation of sorts, a reconfigured disaster simulation. I was installing it when the World Trade Center got hit.

After that, I think my work got less interesting for people. They were getting paranoid. I think a lot of my work provokes this reaction. It’s difficult to do stuff without people saying, “Is it okay to do that— or not?” But since last year, things are getting more normalized.

R.J. Preece: Are there key events in the development of your artistic practice?

Mark Bain: I was always interested in art and technology. MIT was an interesting place to be. It had a whole facility of equipment and money, and a lot of interesting people who were open to artistic practice. I don’t think it is a key though. A lot of my work stems from growing up with my architect father. I also played music, working a lot with sound, and developed my own recording studio. One grandfather started an architecture firm in Seattle, and the other was an aerospace engineer at Boeing.

I was also a bit of a juvenile delinquent. My creativity has taken over some of that energy. Some of my work can be slightly subversive. Being an artist gives you an excuse to do whatever you really want to do and then to present it in a new way as well.

R.J. Preece: Why do you think so many artists are working with sound now?

Mark Bain: For a long time, sound wasn’t really considered a discipline in the fine art sphere. But that has changed, and support has increased. This has created a window of opportunity and encouragement for artists to explore sound, how it relates to other media and what it can contribute to art developments in general.

R.J. Preece: What issues are you currently facing?

Mark Bain: I don’t even have a gallery right now. I had one in Paris, but it closed down a couple of years ago. It’s hard to find people who really understand your work and want to stand behind it. For me, it’s just interesting to get into a situation and make the work in relation to that situation. I do museum shows, but I don’t really have things to give to a collection. I design systems, and they get designed within a context.

R.J. Preece: Future plans?

Mark Bain: I’m looking into transforming large-scale monuments in Paris and Brussels into “sonic objects,” to make unique sound interventions and transform them into “rock gods.”