Curator Maike Aden talks about ‘Disonata’ at Museo Reina Sofia

In Madrid, Disonata. Art in Sound up to 1980 brings together artists, architects, poets and others who influenced the landscape of sound art till 1980.

by Shraddha NairPublished on : Jan 29, 2021

In a comprehensive new exhibition, Museo Reina Sofia brings together a series of objects which play a role in the development of sonic elements in art. Disonata presents a historical perspective on a subject which is still very much developing in today’s atmosphere. With an alive and evolving relationship between music and art unfolding continuously, tracking the introduction of aural ingredients into the landscape of art becomes a rather constructive conversation to have. Disonata: Art in Sound up to 1980 calls upon the work of Man Ray, Jean Tinguely, Chris Burden, Marcel Duchamp, Esther Ferrer, Elena Asins and others from movements such as Gutai, Fluxus, Art Brut, CoBrA, kinetic art, New Realism and Grupo Zaj. The exhibition does not forget to pay tribute to the musicians, poets, engineers and architects who were also involved in the evolution of this art form.

Disonata captures a variety of form and media in exhibited works | Disonata | STIRworld
Disonata captures a variety of form and media in exhibited works Image: Joaquin Cortés, Román Lores for Museo Reina Sofia

Curator Maike Aden speaks to STIR about the guiding inspiration for the exhibition - Guy Schraenen. She says, in the exhibition, some 200 recordings, paintings, collages, prints, instruments, sculptures, scores, models, manifestos, photographs and films are presented, loans from many corners of the world. We decided for a chronological approach. After epoch-making and eye-opening festivals, exhibitions, and books over the last 40 years have generated interest in individual themes within this field, time has come to take into account the essentially unclassifiable nature of the individual nuances of the works. Instead of illustrate with the works pre-formulated definitions, themes or narratives, with which they have very little to, Disonata lives up to the polyphonic riches of each sound project. The sequences in the show, following the spatial organisation of the museum, offers main and subsidiary paths which permit of course contextualisations. But they make perceptible not only the relations and overlaps between the works but also the discontinuities. In this sense, the exhibition can be understood as a veritable Disonata: a composition which both reflects a canonical form, but surely frustrates any expectation of a systematically composed exhibition following a strict order. Everybody who opens ears and eyes will gain an understanding of audible art and, moreover, of the way we hear and see our surrounding. When we reflect ourselves in the works of the show, we will realise that we perceive and interpret our world to a very great extent acoustically, probably even more than visually”.

An installation on display at Disonata: Art in Sound up to 1980 | Disonata | STIRworld
An installation on display at Disonata: Art in Sound up to 1980 Image: Joaquin Cortés, Román Lores for Museo Reina Sofia

Aden continues, “Guy Schraenen was an expert of sound art and a collector of sound works by visual artists, in particular of artists' vinyl records. His collection, now the internationally most extensive collection of this genre, was conceived as part of his Archive for Small Press & Communication (A.S.P.C.), which he runs together with Anne Marsily from 1974 on. The other part of the archive comprised published paper works and objects by artists of the 1960s and 1970s. Both parts of the A.S.P.C. are now housed in the Centre for Artists' Publications at the Museum Weserburg in Bremen, Germany. Guy Schraenen focused primarily on the concepts and works of artists of the various international avant-garde and independent art movements. Associated concepts such as the uncompromising, original and innovative artistic work have been pushed aside once and for all during the 1980s due to the globalisation and commercialisation of the art market. This marked a new era also in sound art. How acoustic means of expression branched out in hitherto unimagined directions will be presented in the exhibition Audiosphere”. Audiosphere is one of the other exhibitions currently on display at Museo Reina Sofia.

“When Guy Schraenen died of an accident at the end of 2018, I was asked to continue the organisation of the exhibition. I was collaborating with Guy Schraenen since 2005. Before I became an art historian and musicologist, I was a musician. Since many years, I have been realising essays, teaching projects and exhibitions on sound art,” Aden concludes, underlining her personal connection to the curation.

Radio Skulptur by Jean Tinguely | Disonata | Jean Tinguely |STIRworld
Radio Skulptur by Jean Tinguely Image: Joaquin Cortés, Román Lores for Museo Reina Sofia

Aden continues to discuss the politics and dogma behind the revolutionary inclusion of sound and music in art saying, “When the pioneers set out on expeditions into the hitherto unexplored realms of sonic phenomena and processes, previously the exclusive domain of musicians, they came from various directions. But the driving force was the visual artists. Next to them also visionary poets and musicians, even architects and engineers. It was as if a kind of membrane in their ears that had previously blocked out the noise of this world was dissolved. From then on, sound was liberated from the rigid corset of rules of the Western music system which had become more and more narrow during the centuries. Everything related to the audible could be explored. All acoustic effects, from silence to ear-splitting crashes; all sound sources, be it from noisy machines or the respiration in the nose; all compositional procedures, involving even calculating machines or the unpredictable throwing of points on lines; all forms of staging, may it be completely drunk or in a desert; all kinds of notations, also the scratches directly on a record or the invisible electromagnetic waves in our environment; all intermedia activities to combine audible, visible, tactile or olfactory sensations. All this questioned the established iron law of the non-relationship between music and the visual arts. Behind it was Lessing's verdict of a spatial art limited to the visual and the music unfolding in the course of time. Even if artists have been experimenting with equivalencies of the arts since Romanticism, and although Paul Klee already described the separation of the arts as ‘academic madness’, advocates of 'absolute music' and 'autonomy' went on for a long time maintaining that the arts must correspond to their respective material in order to remain 'authentic' (whatever that means). But with the new sound investigations, a reality broke through, pulsating with life, which shattered the well-defined harmony of allegedly superior forms and styles of the established Western music system, which had lost contact with the modern world. Harmony is rarely as innocent as it might appear but fully loaded with ideology. As a tonal concept in Western classical music, it was invented by the educated middle classes and served as an instrument of an ethnocentric narrative that maintained itself at the top of the hierarchy, subjugating all other forms and styles of music. The new music historians and critics that emerged in this environment applied to harmony constructs, such as ‘progressive’, ‘truthful’, ‘spiritual’ and ‘divine’, ensuring that music stayed pure. And free of all contradiction, violence, or misery that the middle classes had left behind them on their path to wealth and power”.

Disonata brings together contributions from a range of art movements | Disonata | STIRworld
Disonata brings together contributions from a range of art movements Image: Joaquin Cortés, Román Lores for Museo Reina Sofia

While the exhibition serves as a vast and immersive look at the detailed history of art and sound in the modern age, as a viewer one misses the elucidation of the relevance of that history in relation to our contemporary society. Disonata will continue to be on display at Museo Reina Sofia until March 1, 2021. These dates are subject to change due to the ongoing pandemic.

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