Project 3: Place in art

Exercise 2 – Developing research skills, with reference to Katie Paterson’s Vatnajökull (the sound of).

vatnajokull notes

Additional notes regarding Vatnajökull as…

  1. …a site-specific work:
    • Vatnajökull (the sound of) is a truly site-specific piece. Physically stepping foot into the gallery wasn’t enough or even essential; to experience the work, one had to (inter)act: dial the live line to Vatnajökull (an underwater microphone fed into one of its outlet glacial lagoons) in Iceland.
    • The number could be called from anywhere in the world, emphasizing that the caller’s location was not a relevant criteria. What was essential, however, was the interaction with this specific place (in this case, a site) as it dies/disappears.
    • The words “the sound of” in the title are significant, because the sound of the glacier melting was constantly changing. It wasn’t the glacier but a precise interaction with the sound of the Vatnajökull glacier that Paterson wanted to emphasize.
    • The piece no longer exists; the live line was cut, the microphone (presumably) removed from the lagoon, and of course the glacier has continued to melt away (the site itself then, no longer exists as it did, and so the experience of the piece can’t be replicated).
    • What exists today is a record or (moveable) archive of Vatnajökull (the sound of).
  2. …it relates to the theme of “place”:
    • As a site-specific piece named after its location, I want to say the work’s relationship to place, namely Vatnajökull, is fixed. Of course, the site was already melting (literally, a slippery, shape-shifting place) during the temporary installation of the underwater microphone whose purpose was to witness/give voice to exactly that movement, and so this “placial” relationship is fraught, and also concerned with time.
    • Ironically, there’s also a sense of attempting to immortalize, or freeze in time (through documentation of this project: photos, the neon number, the book of phone numbers that called the glacier) Vatnajökull, which of course has a fluid form by nature. By documenting (thus immortalizing) the artwork, are we immortalizing the place? Is this an example of accidental hubris or is Paterson making a deliberately multi-faceted statement about the fluidity of nature and the clumsy, short-sighted interference of humankind?
    • The piece also explores how technologies inform our experience of place; today, we don’t have to be somewhere to experience it sensually. (Our “sensual” experience is nevertheless mitigated and may be compromised by technology).
  3. …it incorporates text:
    • I’m just realizing that the title of a work of art (where applicable) is probably the most common way (nearly all) artists incorporate text into their works.
    • In Vatnajökull (the sound of), Paterson’s title evokes the site-specific and sensual nature (sound installation) of the work. Although there is a neon sign and photos to accompany/contextualize the gallery experience, the title reminds that this is not a visual piece.
    • Numbers account for the other “texts” of this piece: the neon sign indicating the number to call for “the sound of” Vatnajökull. The ability to “decode” this text is key to completing one’s experience of the piece.
    • This text was completed, or complemented, by a phone book (displayed later, alongside the archive of this piece) listing the numbers of several thousands of people who called the temporary live line to Vatnajökull. It’s kind of like a guest book at a wedding (or funeral).
    • The numbers are a “poetically economical” (term borrowed from Brian Dillon’s 2012 review of Paterson in The Guardian) representation of the relationship between two sides of a conversation, acting as: 1) a static proof of a now-closed conversation between Vatnajökull and its callers, and 2) object-metaphors for an ongoing dialog between Nature and Humankind.

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