Reviews, News and Commentary

New Neon and Sound installations at the Auckland Art Gallery

Nathan Coley “A Place Beyond Belief” and Susan Philpsz “War Damaged Instruments”

Auckland Art Gallery

Nathan Coley, A Place Beyond Belief

Susan Philipsz, War Damaged Instruments

Until November 29

The atrium of the Auckland Art Gallery is currently exhibiting two installation by international artists – Nathan Coley’s neon work displays the words “A Place Beyond Belief” mounted on a scaffolding frame while Susan Philipsz sound work “War Damaged Instruments” provides a striking soundscape

They both deal with political and social issues in a poetic and contemplative way and are both so ephemeral that they could be missed by the busy gallery goer as they sit lightly in the space.

War Damaged Instruments was originally developed to mark the centenary of World War I and makes use of music played on brass and wind instruments damaged in armed conflicts over the last 200 years.

The work uses the  sound of the bugle call, ‘The Last Post,’ as the base for the work.  The artist had musicians play the basic bugle notes on the various broken instruments with the sounds then assembled into a work which stutters and rasps  through a performance  in which the breath of the musicians is occasionally heard along with the sounds.

These instruments also bring back sounds of history with some of them linked to major battle. There is the bugle that sounded the charge of the Light Brigade at the 1854 Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War and one belonging to a 14-year-old drummer boy at the Battle of Waterloo There are others from the Boer War as well as World war I. assembled form museums in England and Germany.

The faint eerie sounds can be heard throughout the gallery, the sounds of a distant bugle calls which are strangely disconcerting. However sitting in the atrium listening closely the music as well as being melancholic is also uplifting providing a sense of survival and victory.

Auckland Art Gallery Director Kirsten Paisley says, ‘An important aspect of Philipsz’s work is the impact of location  upon her installations and the resonance this creates for those listening. Many New Zealanders are strongly connected to the ANZAC legacy, and will find this work offers a unique opportunity for reflection on the devastating impact of war.’

Scottish artist Nathan Coley heard the words “A Place Beyond Belief “spoken in a radio interview aired about the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington DC in which a woman  recalls an event on that day.

The words have now lost their original emotional power but take on new more relevant meanings and interpretations. Rather than being a simple statement the large neon work becomes an advertising hoarding, broadcasting an idea which can be moves between commercial, political, religious and personal.

The words which originally had a deeply personal reaction to tragedy are expanded to work on multiple levels including amplifying the poignancy of the Susan Philipsz sound work with the words and music  seemingly interlinked. Then there is the whole notion of the art gallery as a place which exposes the viewer to new ideas and experiences as well as refencing the individuals experience of their whole living environment.

One of the “damaged instrument” used in “War Damaged Instruments”

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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