David Cunningham - A piano in a gallery
  Year :   2006
  Location :   England
  Worktype :   Installation
  Materials:   -
  Info :   Carter Presents, London

  Work Details  
  A piano sits in the middle of an empty gallery. All the sound in the room is amplified and the sound passed through loudspeakers which resonate over the piano strings which vibrate into the room in a continuous cyclical process. This situation is the inverse of a piano amplified. The piano, instrument, conduit and sculpture. The work, pared down and minimal, continuous and evolving. An aesthetic encompassing a reductive gesturality, part Dada, part Bauhaus and part Fluxus, David Cunningham’s installations are all part of one continuous body of work exploring acoustics and subtle sonic dynamics in different locations with changing materials and changing dynamics. This body of work responds acoustically not only to the space but also to the physical presence of its audience, integrating the object of the work with its subject. This self referentiality is central to one of Cunningham’s basic principles - sound isnt used to illustrate an idea, it is the idea in itself. The installations reveal the legacy of Fluxus, the often minimalist exploration of scientific, philosophical, sociological, or other extra-artistic ideas, in this case fused with the sensibility of John Cages use of silence as a compositional tool. Cages renowned work 4 33, (four minutes and 33 seconds of silence) shifts the focus of the audience to their immediate situation, to the ambient sound around them. Cunningham structures that ambience through subtle amplification, by placing microphones and loudspeakers in the gallery.This isolating of sound and its magnification back to us makes us aware of the complexities of our presence in any place we are situated. it is this complexity brought out by subtlety that makes for meaningful and potent art. Being able to explore greater issues through tiny subtleties and an economy of means gives a greater understanding of our place and effect in our environment. This work responds acoustically not only to the proportions and dimensions of the space but also to the physical presence of its audience, integrating the object of the work with its subject. This self referentiality is central to the installation - sound isn t used to illustrate an idea, it is the idea in itself. The work isolates and makes audible the movement of air within a given space, something invisible and so quiet we are normally oblivious to it. Installation Diary 4 August 2006: Nothing much appears to happen in London s art world in July and August. Important (and equally important but less rich) people go on holiday. The rest of us just hang around and read books or get some work done, sensibly thinking it s great, it s quiet and it s warm for a change, why go away now? . Most exhibitions have openings and then trickle out. Some, notably the Tate, often have a last minute rush. This one has had a regular trickle of visitors, hence a Closing view (as opposed to or more properly conjugant with an Opening). I did this last year at Camden and it seems like a good idea. Lots of people who hadn t seen it before and a few generously returning. Although the installation has been stable over the last month the balance had shifted this afternoon, the low note tending to get lost for some mysterious reason. A last minute adjustment before people started arriving. A lot of people seem to want to know how it works. It follows the same principle as The Listening Room and more technical stuff is posted at the Technology link at the top of this page. But Why? is more interesting than How? 2 July 2006: A bright sunny afternoon and evening for the opening of the work to public scrutiny. 1 July 2006: This is one of the most difficult installations I ve made since The Listening Room, ICC, although the work itself and some of the reasons are different. The relatively long process of installing presents a major demand on any curator. The space is relatively small, which means that any physical changes to the feedback environment are magnified; for instance a bag left in a corner has an effect on the reflective acoustic out of all proportion to the visible. So over the last week a fair amout of fine-tuning every day. Jamie in his curatorial role has indulged this although he revealed tonight that he thought I was just fiddling around. An afternoon of running the installation for more fine-tuning left me feeling slightly deaf to the general sound of the installation so I went to join Jamie, Tomoko and Mina who had been watching football in a bar. I thought it would all be over but the football seemed to be going on. The lovely bit was that the bar is Portugese and when their national team won the general sense of happiness and friendship stretched far beyond any national boundary. Which it does every day in that place. We were wondering what it would have been like in an English equivalent - angst-ridden whinging, very drunk people and maybe a fight. Back to the gallery and where is that water coming from? Through the wall. A major flood next door - nobody in - panic, phoning around, shutting off the water and power and a bit of clearing out. A sort of baptism of the work prior to the opening tomorrow. 30 June 2006: Fine-tuning, cleaning and fixing cables in position. 29 June 2006: The floor is painted, the mics are in position and the consequent disruption to settings from equipment being moved (plus a change of one loudspeaker - an attempt to get the sound closer to the piano strings) has forced me to reset the balance producing a definite improvement on the earlier part of the week. This is because I'm dealing with fewer variables - microphone positions are established as workable so I'm concentrating on fine tuning the balance of what is essentially two electronic systems in the same acoustic situation. 27 June 2006: The high sound is still less interesting, perhaps it is constantly ringing one note on the piano which reinforces that pitch in the feedback. I have solutions which will have to wait until the floor is painted and the gallery cleaned out. 26 June 2006: More moving around of microphones. This installation uses the piano as a resonating object in the middle of a resonating room so the basic but complex equation of room reflections, floor, ceiling, walls is made even more complex by the shape of the piano and the sympathetic resonances induced in the strings. A few hours work today seems to have produced a coherent balance of the elements involved and seems more stable than previous attempts. On Thursday (22 June) I wrote: The room is part of the equation of the system of resonance but unlike The Listening Room and most of the other installations, this is not the main focus of the process. Which begs the question - what is the focus? I'm not entirely sure. As spectator (or participant) of an artwork I should be looking for something I don't understand, something beyond my expectation. Sometimes it's so weirdly structured that I don't see it for years. It comes down to observation - ways of looking at the world. Observation is the responsibility of the spectator as well as the artist. 25 June 2006: I realised today that this situation is the inverse of a piano amplified, the speakers are in the piano and the microphones are in the room. This is a curious incidental aspect of the work which has nothing obvious to do with the way I was thinking about the installation. Maybe it is significant. It will certainly be significant to some people. More moving around of microphones. The doors are open, birdsong in the background. 23 June 2006: Installation continues at Carter Presents. My intention today was to experiment with microphone positions but instead the whole day was taken up with shopping for materials and talking to curator Jamie about the text of the statement he is writing about the work. His press releases are mini-essays. We are trying to identify some sort of meaningful and relevant historical context. Discussion ranges from Cage to Fluxus to On Kawara, Beuys and beyond. 22 June 2006: Installation begins at Carter Presents... Shane and Will arrive to move the piano. By about 3pm the work is roughly assembled and beginning to make sound. The strings of the piano are resonating sympathetically with the feedback frequencies, very subtle. Not having had the opportunity to test this work I'm curious to how it will behave. The room is part of the equation of the system of resonance but unlike The Listening Room and most of the other installations, this is not the main focus of the process. Accessed 8.11.06 from http://www.stalk.net/