Inside the hurdy-gurdy

Chris Reid: Stevie Wishart & Joan Grounds, Domus 3

Stevie Wishart, UT v2, domus 3

Stevie Wishart, UT v2, domus 3

Stevie Wishart, UT v2, domus 3

The gallery is nearly empty–a mixing desk, projector and a few pedestals turned sideways to form seats are in the rear room. A long, sky-blue screen is unrolled like a blind in the middle room, and there are tiny loudspeakers on the walls in every room. Lengths of speaker cable are taped to the wall in the shape of arches and angles, like an architectural drawing, or nerves mapping the body.

In this, the third in the Domus series of artists’ interventions into the CACSA building, a video is projected onto an entire wall. Meanwhile, Stevie Wishart slowly walks around wearing her hurdy-gurdy, whose transmitter signals its sound to the mixing desk and speakers. Wishart blends recorded, sampled and live sounds, exploring the resonances inherent in the gallery, a converted 120 year-old, inner-suburban, blue-stone villa.

Artist Joan Grounds has worked before with Wishart to create sound and performance installations. They make an environment, an arena. The video is a long, slow-motion close-up of Wishart’s hands playing the hurdy-gurdy, so slow it is nearly still, so large it overwhelms, transfixes. A primitive form of musical notation is painted in henna on the palm of one of Wishart’s hands–the ‘cheat sheet’ used by monks when singing, the hand as language, readable.

The sky-blue screen formed the backdrop for making the video. At times, Wishart rests the hurdy-gurdy on the screen so we can see, in one room, the props used for making the video and in another, the video itself. Throughout, the speakers emit taped sound. This sound becomes a drone, an arrhythmic, trance-inducing, electro-acoustic chant. In this environment, time seems slowed or stopped.

Wishart makes sound by poking and prodding the hurdy-gurdy rather than playing notes. It becomes an object of experimentation as well as a musical instrument, a site of multiple potentials (as is the building). The ancient script and the harmonies of bygone cultures that infuse the instrument are transported into the present. Wishart’s hands could be 1000 years old. The taped sounds, heard at the speed of the slow motion video, become guttural, demonic. It’s as if we’re inside the hurdy-gurdy, as if the gallery is a virtual instrument we’ve entered. Grounds and Wishart collapse the virtual, the medieval and the present into one moment.

Jonathan Dady’s Construction Drawings, the first Domus exhibition earlier this year, comprised scaffolding that replicated the CACSA gallery. Painted to look like a CAD drawing and wrapped around the building, it was a physical manifestation of an architect’s representation of the building, the real as virtual. In Domus 2, Ariane Epars’ Piece of Land 240, the gallery was again empty. Epars’ pulled up some floorboards in each room and placed lights underneath, illuminating the ground below and thus illuminating the origin of this colonised site. In the Domus series, the gallery is no longer neutral space.

Domus 3, Stevie Wishart & Joan Grounds, Contemporary Art Centre
of SA, May 11 – June 3

RealTime issue #44 Aug-Sept 2001 pg.

1 August 2001