Friday, November 03, 2006

The Nerve Metre/ Ann Finegan

David O'Donoghue's The Nerve Metre is about "activating the space", perhaps, one might think, a core, but timeworn installation concept. Yet what O'Donoghue does with this notion goes way, way beyond the usual heightened sensitization to an act of noticing through principally visual triggers. O'Donoghue multiplies the sensory registers and expands the usual experiences of awareness by raising the threshold of aliveness and 'being-there' to one in which the Powerhouse resonates in tune with the resident frequencies of its environment.First and foremost, The Nerve Metre is a soundwork. O'Donoghue has filled the entire fabric of the structure with an amplified and distorted feedback loop of its own soundtrack; in Frank Zappa's terms its very own "dynamo hum" - the white noise which permeates every space, and which, in this case, literally reflects the buidling's former use as a power station. O'Donoghue seemingly steeps every pore and microinterval of space with this modulated soundtrack, which, in turn, is mixed with simple detuned radio signals picked up by two humble transistor radios strategically located in the space. The result is a three-way mix in which static and occasional accidentally tuned sound snatches are passed through relays of reverb and wah wah [ripped from the world of the rock guitar] to blend with the prerecorded feedback composition. The result is a deeply evocative, subtle soundwork with rich rumbling base notes and the 'intensive' quality of microsound works: a mix of tones, glitches and frequencies, which, when looped and distorted, produce the characteristic syrupy, flowing sounds which saturate space [think Jesus & Mary Chain's Just Like Honey]. The varied and variable soundscape brings the building to a state of aliveness which fluctuates with the galler-goer's movement as s/he explores the site and articulates each sector with its own intensive quality.But none of the workings are quite hidden. O'Donoghue hasn't fallen back on a speaker system of surround sound stategically placed, as if the resultant soundpiece was the invisible work. There's much more to this work that the notion of bare building activated by sound, in turn directing the visitor to the act of noticing, of taking the building in, in a studied way, because the building itself is the only thing to occupy the visual field. Certainly, the overwhelming first impression of the deep and infiltrating sound source has this initial effect of making one look, and look attentively, but that is only the beginning of the work. O'Donoghue goes much, much further, into the heart of the electromagnetosphere.The radio antennas are literally plugging into the static of the waves pulsing through the atmosphere and the amplified micrsounds are picking up on resonant static within the powerhouse. In this respect the work extends the tradition pioneered by Reich [his orgone energy boxes, capacitors for recharging the body], the spectacles of Tesla [electrical storms of static electricity which alarmingly sparked in enormous arcs across his studio], de Maria's The Lightning Field [a vast area of two square kilometres of 'field' punctuated at regular intervals with metre high steel lightning rods to attract and 'manifest' the natural event of 'lightning' within the framework of art], and Hinterding's seminal Aeriology series, in which immense but semi-transparent coils of fine copper wire .amplified and listened in to the microsounds of the electromagnetosphere directly.Inside this rich heritage, O'Donoghue is in closest dialogue with Hinterding who expanded on the sound component of electromagnetic works within a visual field [for example, the sound of more than a hundred specially coated beer glasses, turned capacitors, filling with electricity], and, more directly, her sound practice of manipulating feeback by moving her Hill's hoist antennae through space, in a 'visual' performance in which she telecommands the sound at a distance, like the conductor of an invisible orchestra of microsounds in a black box.It's this element of the mysterious soundbox, delightfully absurdist, and relating back to so many black boxes of electronic sound, which provides key elements of the visual aspect of O'Donoghue's show. The radio antenna provocatively protrude from carefully crafted openings in the top of remodelled Ikea kit boxes of colour-coded plastic, connected, in turn, by a superfluity of coloured electrical cabling and gaffer tape. A Minimalist colour coding connects the installation components - all of which are plastic -with the exposed existent electrical cabling of the building. Literally, O'Donoghue's installation functions as the bulding's prosthesis, his exuberant use of an excess of connective cabling an extension of itself, which doubles, multiples and enjoys itself in a kind of extended play. The cables occasionally loop decadentally on a wall or floor, held in place with a three way power point aesthetically pinned or clipped into position. Every element of hardware and its positioning, even that of humble gaffer tape, becomes aestheticized, part of the art of style and making, that craft element through which Heidegger argued, in The Origin of the Work of Art, that works of art 'deconceal' from the humble materials such as stone or wood [or, in more recent times, more twentieth century materials]. In the tradition of Hinterding, O'Donoghue works the magic of deconcealing [loosely translated a mode of 'revealing' which emphasises the act of the 'de', of undoing nature's 'concealing']. Electrical cabling and tape become a mode of drawing as one follows O'Donoghue's flourishes of loop, line and dashes, and the drawing never stops, for seaguing into the powerhouse's original cabling, the act of 'drawing' extends up into the building, a code of secret graffiti written into its construction.Hinterding, too, had followed this line, drawing the sound component of the Aeriology series from the invisible of the electromagnetosphere into the visible of the copper line or cable, compounding electrical function with artistic form. O'Donoghue paints and sculpts with coloured cabling [metres and metres of it], and, as in Hinterding;s Aeriology, function overlays with form- the nerve metre is referencing the actual aliveness of the cable which draws, colours and plays with form at the same time as it carries the current which is then transformed into the saturating micro soundwork.The installation thus works simultaneously on a multitude of dimensions. Overall, as a soundwork it occupies the powerhouse on the terms of its monumental scale, activating each element of the massive interior [over three huge levels] as far as the eye, cast upwards and around, can penetrate. But, on a micro level, the combination of sound, drawing and sculpture activates more intimate moments. Behind pillars, around corners, sometimes commanding from platforms, the installation radically and dramatically has the power to switch scale.Behind a steel pillar and a red wall [leftover from a previous show], a discreet plastic and steel sculpture reminiscent of one of Susan Norrie's non-functioning 'tables' draws the viewer into the detail of old politcal graffiti on the pole [a hand holding a lightning bolt]. At the right distance it's a carefully composed still life moment with intimate sound. Then, up on one of the viewing platforms, where your attention is drawn to one of the mysterious towers of plastic boxes, you're aware that you have been strategically placed to enjoy the sound-enhanced vista of the powerhouse's sublime proportions. In the sole antechamber, remodelled in standard art gallery white-cube mode, O'Donoghue teases with Dan Flavin style coloured flourescent tubes, and thus directly with Minimalism, but then he places some half out of sight, partially hidden by ceiling beams so that their glow rather reflects details of the buidling, revealed again as the result of 'an act of making'.The direct reference to Flavin and Minimalism consolidates the installation into fine arts, as it also compounds Minimalism's use of modular, industrial ready-made materials. If Tony Schwenson's "signature" is BBC hardware, O'Donoghue's is Ikea plastics. But, Minimalism aim wasn't only stylistic, an aesthetic break from Victorian clutter and what modernist architst Loos famously termed 'ornament'. It had more in common with modernism's design-for-living1, pared down lines and a quality of space and light, in short, a shift from an aesthetics of the pleasures of enjoying art's sealed off picture/pedestal world, to one of a phenomenological interaction with art as one of bodies in space. One of Minimalism's key concepts, argued in Donald Judd's "Specific Objects," is the end of the painting/sculpture divide, the end of the frame and the pedestal designating art's cut off "other place" of reverie, for one of interaction with art as objects inhabiting the same phenomenological world. In general, installation brings the body and sensory experience into this kind of contact - body to body - whether it be a Schwenson installation [complicated with video's performative of this close contact with the world of matter - for Schwenson always humously so], or a Jason Rhoades pile of articulate junk.This contact and activation of a sensory as well as intellectual response is at the core of Minimalism as an important forerunner of the broader practice of installation, as a phenomenological experience. O'Donoghue embraces and acknowledges the roots of this fundamental shift in twentieth century art practice and expands and consolidates its onto-phenomenological aspect through late twentieth and twenty-first century micropractices. The Nerve Metre is this conducting current which takes the viewer into the amplified and accentuated experience of the Casula powerhouse through what Heidegger called our phenomenological being-there (Dasein). Not only do we sense ourselves as more present, more aware of ourselves as bodies moving through and exporing a particular space, structure and sound-construct, but the majestic scale of the building, itself, also presences more readily, and intimately, opening itself through a tuning-in on a microlevel which allows us to experience its aliveness more directly.
Ann Finegan
Note.1. Of course, Minimalism was a response to Greenbergian high modernist colourfield painting, which Judd explcitly rejected because of its its reduction to the two-dimensional frame. Qua frame (or pedestal in the case of sculpture) the viewer was cut off from the phenomenological response to art as object- hence Judd's title "Specific Objects." For a fuller discussion see Hal Foster's chapter, "The Crux of Minimalism" in The Return of the Real.