The Silence Show – at Culturgest

In the first room, an audio installation presents four sound works. The first is by Russolo, Risveglio di una Cittá, from 1913. The work was written not for a conventional orchestra, but for instruments designed by Russolo himself, the 16 Intonarumori. They were built between 1910 and 1930 and disappeared after the Second World War.

The composer intended to create an orchestra with everyday sounds, urban noises, far from the placidity attributed to the “silences” of nature and “ancient life”. Russolo had a fascination for the dissonant and the “amalgam of sounds” that surprised the ears, scarcely used to understanding the “noise sounds”, as he said, of the everyday machines and cities. According to the composer, it was polyphonically rich and instrumentally coloured material.

These “noise sounds” are also in the various rooms of the exhibition. In these spaces, the difference between the enjoyment of a visual or sculptural work of art and the combination of indistinguishable sounds is striking. It is also the underlining of Cage’s idea: unlike a painting that is mounted on the wall, music, sound or noise are not confined to a room. It diffuses, merges, propagates, gravitates, invading other spaces. An installation by Pedro Tudela, also in this exhibition, enters the visitor’s ear, and exemplifies the vigorous contamination of sound, without brakes, in the exhibition venue.

Let’s go back to Russolo and his 1913 manifesto. The composer often said that the “increasing multiplication of machines in daily life” allowed a “great number of varied noises, making pure sound, because of its smallness and monotony, no longer capable of provoking emotions.” The music, for him, “developed in the search for a more complex polyphony and a greater range of timbres and instrumental colours.”

The ear got used, as he often claimed, to the “sound slaps”, to the unpredictability of modern life, full of noises of all kinds, which Russolo considered less monotonous than the music played by several gloomy violins.

Also in the first room of the exhibition, Russolo’s work is linked to three other sound pieces, including La Battaglia di Adrianopoli, 1924, by Fillipo Tommaso Marinetti, which Russolo transcribed in his futuristic manifesto. Russolo’s relationship with Marinetti’s work arose in a movement of Italian avant-garde artists, in particular futurists, who used multi-sensorial resources in their works.

Marinetti, years before Russolo, published the Futurist Manifesto, 1909, where he praised speed, machines, and where he defended that a roaring car was more beautiful than the Winged Victory of Samothrace.

Still in the same room, the excerpt from Ursonata, by Kurt Schwitters, 1932, follows the sound recordings of Marinetti and Russolo. The automatic writing and the sound poems revitalized the works of art. As in Russolo and Marinetti, the machines were praised up to the peak of noise.

From that first moment, when Russolo, Marinetti, Schwiters and Hausmann, primordial elements in the use of sound in the plastic arts, came together, we then encounter works by artists of the 20th and early 21st centuries. It is an exhibition with a sensorial experience, focused essentially on sound, but not only on sound. Almost like a reflection on art without the noise of the image? A “look” at the most recent art, and of the 20th century, without saturated visual illusions, which overshadow even the clear thinking about art itself? In any case, the sensorial potentialities of sound are clues to understanding visual plastic art, bringing it closer to reason and reflection on its current effectiveness. Emphasizing the importance of communication through sound, among other senses, allows not only understanding the global fusion of different artistic areas, in the sense of total art, but also softens art under the influence of the visual, and approaches the artistic phenomenon to what is surprising, odd, but capable of feeding novelty. Kurt Schwitters, when explaining his sonata with primordial sounds, taken from a poem by Hausmann, refers to the sounds grabbed from the railway towers. According to the artist, it was an interesting sound material because there was no way to understand it at that time.

Throughout the circuit, we are affected by artists in their various sound proposals. Just to mention a few: One Million Years, by On Kawara, Tribu, by Julião Sarmento, the aforementioned Pedro Tudela, Dennis Oppenheim, Christian Marclay, Rodney Graham, Escutura, by Laura Belém, Maria Thereza Alves, Ja Ja Ja Ja, by Joseph Beuys, Joan Jonas, Bruce Nauman, Ricardo Jacinto, António Dias, Luisa Cunha, among others.

The Invisible Show, curated by Delfim Sardo, is on view at Culturgest until January 10.

Carla Carbone was born in Lisbon, 1971. She studied Drawing in and Design of Equipment at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Lisbon. Completed his Masters in Visual Arts Teaching. She writes about Design since 1999, first in the newspaper O Independente, then in editions like Anuário de Design, arq.a magazine, DIF, Parq. She also participates in editions such as FRAME, Diário Digital, Wrongwrong, and in the collection of Portuguese designers, edited by the newspaper Público. She collaborated with illustrations for Fanzine Flanzine and Gerador magazine. (photo: Eurico Lino Vale)

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