Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sound as Art at 1708 Gallery

Imagine how difficult it is to present sound as art in the very visual art world. This afternoon, 1708 Gallery presented two sound artists, John Henry Blatter and Stephen Vitiello, to discuss the challenge of allowing the ears to work like eyes in perceiving what is art. The two artists had different takes on the importance of the visual element in sound art; Blatter felt strongly that experiencing his sound works spatially is very important. Vitiello, who has been working in sound art longer, preferred a purely aural presence.

Blatter's current site-specific piece, New Works, is a collection of 135 speakers arranged rhythmically and randomly on the wall of 1708. At any one time, 18 channels are playing the voices of people sharing their stories. Blatter was seeking strong emotion in the audio he collected from friends and strangers. Voices come and go as a visitor spends time in the space.

Vitiello addressed the difficulties of incorporating sound art into galleries and museums focused on visual art. He explained that sound art can not just be listened to through headphones in a room because it is created to be heard in space. He likened the hurdles sound art has had in dealing with the greater art world to those that challenged video artists back in the 70s and 80s, but acknowledged that finally the past nine years have brought about a heightened appreciation, acceptance and understanding of sound art.

Nine years! Not quite a decade, but it's not like it happened in the blink of an ear, either.

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