Kunsthaus Graz / Universalmuseum Joanneum / Alte Galerie
artist / participant
Primal Energies and Sonic Projections
March 13–June 7, 2020
Opening: March 12, 2020, 7pm
In spring 2020 Bill Fontana, the American sound artist active on the international stage for decades, opens a solo exhibition Primal Energies in Kunsthaus Graz and the re-enactment Sonic Projections in the city—both focussing on generating awareness for our environment.
Inside the bulbous domed space of Kunsthaus Graz, sounds and views of sustainable energy production (earth and solar energy, wind and water power) are transformed into a multidimensional experience as visual and acoustic patterns—extended in space and time. Using prototypical space-mapping, the installation immerses the audience in a spherical vision of the internal processes of energy production, opening up a dialogue between nature and culture. Such as live sounds from the inside of a tree on the banks of the River Mur, recently dammed for a new hydroelectric power station, illuminate the fragile balance between technical progress and changes to the landscape.
With the re-enactment of Sonic Projections the conciliatory tones of nature sound forth in the urban space. Sonic Projections is the revival of Fontana’s 1988 piece for the steirischer herbstfestival. Originally transmitted from the Schlossberg, a hill in the Graz city centre, today it now also resounds back from Kunsthaus Graz in a kind of dialogue. Gathered from all over the world, Bill Fontana’s harmonious sounds of nature and culture, the song of an American nightingale, an Australian lyrebird, the blast of a foghorn from San Francisco Bay, will invite everyone to enjoy a brief, private retracing of the "overlooked." The re-enactment uses new technologies and is devoted to today’s city on the acoustic level. As a recurring sound it thus functions as a means of orientation to time and space, as a trigger of memory and deliberate perception, plumbing what is currently an ever-more delicate construct of urban needs and strains.
Bill Fontanas work centres on the activation of conscious listening and an awareness of sound qualities and harmonies in cultural production and everyday life. With the help of continuously evolving technical instruments and unfamiliar localization, he makes characteristics of landscapes, and manmade architecture and engineering perceivable, while creating site specific, and locally rooted immersive sound sculptures. Equipped with the latest microphones, vibration sensors and recording devices, the artist listens deeply into what is happening inside a vast range of materials, such as powerful steel turbines and ancient trees. As a witness to constant change, acoustic energy constantly flows through materials and so develops a unique musical structure in time. In his Sound Sculptures Fontana has been making the echo of processes in objects hidden from the eyes accessible as a physical experience for a wide audience, inside and outside of the institutional museum space. Since 2009, his sound compositions have been joined by his Sonic Visions—works that assign a level of film to the sound. In his most recent audio-visual work, acoustic and visual patterns overlap in mesmerizing harmony and make us “become fully present” (Fontana).
As a former student of John Cage, Dick Higgens and Alison Knowles, Bill Fontana’s work today stands for a continuation of radical concepts of the 1970s—apart from frequently pondering environmental concerns, his work is exemplary for the urge to leave the studio—and so links up with the exhibition CalArts that is showing in Kunsthaus Graz in parallel. Throughout his career as an artist in the medium of sound, Bill Fontana has specialized in experiencing environmental relationships and the environment as a communicative resource. Today, he is one of the leading artistic voices that should be heard and experienced right now.
Curated by Katrin Bucher Trantow
In cooperation with the University of Art Graz, Ö1 Kunstradio (ORF), Radio Helsinki, mur.at, History Museum and the "Kultur inklusiv" Project