On my last trip to London I visited the Serpentine Gallery, the exhibition by Anri Sala transformed the space, not physically, but through a cycle of works (objects, video) and the interaction of sound, I found myself utterly mesmerized!
The relationship of sound to the image has been of increasing importance to Sala, and for me this provided the essence of the exhibition’s success. On entering, the viewer was asked to contemplate an object at centre of the gallery space, a snare drum, still, until sound from another room set in motion a series of reverberations that drew each viewer around and through each of the gallery spaces. The drumsticks resting on top, activated by the low frequencies of the soundtrack, acted like small pebbles thrown across the surface of perfectly still water.
The enchanted drum appeared to play itself, and as we followed the soundscape through the gallery this fascinating sensory experience continued. In the next room Sala’s film Le Clash, 2010 paired a derelict concert hall in Bordeaux with nostalgic renditions of the well-known pop song Should I Stay or Should I Go. The room was enhanced from the outside, where perforated walls (Score, 2011) allowed the dewy morning’s sunlight to scatter across the floor. As the viewer I felt caught in the cycle of experiences inside the gallery but also found myself drawn in and around from the outside, where music and light were able to permeate the gallery walls, both in and out, in stunning harmony.
The central gallery space acted as the heart of this exhibition. Sala’s film Answer Me, 2008, revealed an underlying tension; as the drummer played, a female voice demanded, the intensity building until all else was drowned out. The dome echoed and the snare drum in the first room responded to the inaudible frequencies as if by magic! Thinking of it now, this growing tension was similar to that of Savage’s I Asked You a Thousand Times, 2009 recently displayed at Spike Island, Bristol.
The jewel of the show that morning for me was with the synchronized live performance of Sala’s 3-2-1, 2011 and his earlier film Long Sorrow, 2005. In a moment of silence, having watched each of the individual works displayed, the sound of a saxophone played from across the gallery. Curiosity drew me back through the spaces to witness yet another layer of experience, where real time performance interacted with the record of a performance orchestrated by the artist.
The saxophonist played, the sound filtering and flowing through the entire space, as did the sunlight. He paused, only for the musician in the video to continue his song. They played together, the viewer mesmerized by a wonderful synthesis of experience.