Lebanese artist Tarek Atoui presents four projects on rhythm and improvisationat NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore.
“The Ground: From the Land to the Sea” brings together some of the most important works by the sound artist, forming a musical and spatial composition in the gallery.
Tarek Atoui’s exhibition “The Ground: From the Land to the Sea” at NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore (NTU CCA Singapore) is an introspective, visceral experience. Pulling together an assortment of pieces from four projects by the Lebanese sound artist – including I/E (2015-ongoing), The Ground (2013-ongoing), The Reverse Collection (2014-16) and WITHIN (2012-13) – NTU CCA Singapore’s exhibition space is converted into an echo chamber that houses Atoui’s interwoven sounds and musical objects.
“The Ground: From the Land to the Sea” is not only an opportunity to familiarise oneself with Tarek Atoui’s diverse oeuvre, but is also a chance to consider the works’ connections to each other, with each component of Atoui’s practice coming together in this exhibition to become an ensemble, a composition. Curator Khim Ong, who co-curated the exhibition with Professor Ute Meta Bauer, told Art Radar:
The composition developed in the space. Tarek moved the instruments around, listened to how the space responded to the sounds, and tested different combinations. He composed as he went along, and everything was orchestrated on-site.
On view until 24 June 2018, the exhibition at NTU CCA Singapore also provides a unique perspective on the centre’s current overarching research topic, “CLIMATES. HABITATS. ENVIRONMENTS.”, which explores issues related to global ecosystems. Through collected audio samples and the creation of new music-making contraptions, the audience is thrust into an audio-visual environment that collapses the boundaries between geographic places (and, in some way, transcends them) to invoke sonic meditation through a playful symphony of aural imagery.
Surrounding the exhibition space are twelve speakers that project sounds of underwater environments as well as human and industrial activities. Collected from harbours that the composer visited in Athens and Abu Dhabi, as well as waterfront sites and islands along Singapore’s shores, the audio loop is a presentation of Atoui’s ongoing project entitled I/E. These collected audio samples reverberate across the entire room, and support the cacophony of sounds coming from the instruments dispersed across the gallery space. Many of these unique musical objects were made collaboratively with other musicians through projects such as The Ground. In this ongoing series, Atoui works with luthiers, craftsmen and electronic engineers to develop instruments based on his observations of nature in the Pearl River Delta in China.
Situated near the entrance of the exhibition are beautifully-displayed, textured ceramic discs from two bodies of work, namely The Spin Library and The Spin Library / Series #2. The former was inspired by patterns in nature and were created by Chinese artist Wu Lou. The latter was a collaboration between Atoui and Wu Lou that originated from Atoui’s exploration of Tarab and classical Arab music. In “The Gound: From the Land to the Sea”, these discs are played on turntables, one of which Atoui developed for the exhibition.
Unlike regular turntables, The Turntable/ Study #1 rotates at irregular speeds, allowing different interpretations of the ridges and grooves of the discs to unfold over the course of time. The interplay between rhythm and improvisation energises the white cube that contains Atoui’s projects, and expands the audience’s understanding of an exhibition. The works in Atoui’s “The Ground: From the Land to the Sea” are not static artworks or a single sound piece playing on a loop. Their differentiations over time, though slight, parallel the ever-changing environments and relationships that Atoui captures through his projects and collaborations.
Aside from the automated instruments, Atoui has also invited several Singaporean and international musicians to respond to and play some of the musical devices on view. Each invited musician will occupy NTU CCA Singapore’s gallery space for several days, appropriating Atoui’s installation to create a new body of sounds. Audience members wandering into the exhibition may or may not encounter some of these musicians. Although NTU CCA Singapore has posted dates of when the artists are working in the space, they have chosen to keep the times of these musical interventions anonymous. Curator Khim Ong explains:
It’s an unexpected encounter for the audience. It’s almost as if you’re stepping into someone’s studio. It’s not a performance.
By creating an unconventional aural environment for musicians and the audience to come into contact with each other, Atoui has created a musical platform as much as he has created a score. In this platform, traditional ideas of how musicians and the audience are supposed to behave melt away. In “The Ground: From the Land to the Sea”, the playing of and appreciation of music is not a spectacle of performance, but an introspective relationship with the instruments and the sounds they produce. The audience, the musician, the artist, the gallery space and the environments that inspired Atoui are seamlessly integrated into a whole composition. To quote American composer, accordionist and a central figure in the development of experimental and post-war electronic art music, Pauline Oliveros,
Listening can be focused, linear and exclusive and listening can be open, global and inclusive.
“The Ground: From the Land to the Sea” by Tarek Atoui is on view from 24 March to 24 June 2018 at NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, Block 43 Malan Road, Singapore 109443.
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