We've posted about both Nils Völker and Zimoun in the past, I've only come to appreciate the parallels between their work when we received a couple e-mails—one from each studio—in close succession.
Each artist specializes in partition- or room-sized sonic sculptures, and while each has his own approach and intent, I'm seeing a strong affinity between their overall projects and the thematic content—namely, emulating the natural world through cloyingly simple artificial means.
The muted aesthetic is, of course, complemented by an essential auditory aspect that is meant to induce a Zen-like immersion in each sculpture.
Völker takes a distinct abstract-organic approach, perhaps best demonstrated in his last work, "Thirty Six," in which the content is largely dictated by the programming. As in the previous piece, "Forty Eight" is characterized by the cyclic inflation of the individual balloons, which simulates respiration though a short sequence of biorhythmic activity.
CAPTURED: An Homage to Light and Air"—a collaboration between Völker and his brother—had a science fiction-y, almost film-like quality to it, the off-white Tyvek balloons look evoke an entirely different category of associations.The installation consists of a matrix of white cushions which are selectively inflated and deflated in controlled rhythms, creating wavelike animations across the wall. Although each bag is mounted in a stationary position, the sequences of inflation and deflation create the impression of lively movements. Forms appear from the net-like matrix and disappear back into the surface. In this way shapes and the boundaries of the installation itself start to dissolve.If the materiality is a second-order consideration to the experience, it is paramount to the overall content of the piece: where "
A custom written program on a micro-controller takes control of the cooling fans which inflate and deflate each cushion. These hidden fans produce an ongoing sonorous sound whilst the bags themselves crumple almost silently. So the observer becomes aware of an underlying technical component but can't certainly define where this soundscape is coming from.
The construction consist out of 48 interconnected modules. Each single one is equipped with a white bag, eight cooling fans and custom made electronics. Rge cushions are made from Tyvek, a material which is usually used for moisture barriers, protective clothing or mushroom growing.
Still, "Forty Eight" strikes me as rather less successful than either "CAPTURED" or "Thirty Six": as a sculptural object within a room, its motion is too deliberate to fully engross the audience; as a work of art, the vertical plane remains too architectural to fully suspend disbelief. In other words, it's too obvious that the balloons—building blocks, as it were—are arranged in rows and columns, often behaving in groups of six, eight or the titular 48 as opposed to one cohesive entity, as they do in 1:23–1:40 and 1:56–2:24 of the video.
For his part, the enigmatic Zimoun seems to be pathologically fixated on banality, specifically in the form of cardboard boxes and tiny DC motors that are arrayed in room-size arrangements. The element of high-speed repetition at once evokes industry and diversion—i.e. work and play—a quasi-mechanical drone that constitutes the totality of the work despite the ostensible meaninglessness of each individual gesture.
Alternately, the constant dull rumble or shuffle allude to nature's white-noise generators: a babbling brook or roaring rapids.
Zimoun's "80 prepared dc-motors, cotton balls, cardboard boxes" (above), bears the most semblance to Völker's wall of balloons; four more of the Swiss artist's work are featured in the video (three of which are pictured further down).
The overall effect of Völker's latest work strikes me as less organic (there's that word again) than that of his previous works, and therein lies the difference between the two artists' work. The metaphor for respiration in Völker's work is so predominantly visual, or consciously perceptual, that the viewer imagines the related sound—of breathing— in his or her, um, mind's ear. Insofar as the sonic aspect 'causes' the kinetic, the ambient noise (of the fans) remains incidental to the balloon pieces, and the experience—or at least the video of it—is, at best, vaguely somatic or willfully introspective.
Zimoun's sculptures, on the other hand, are expressly designed to sound like everything (or at least something) and nothing all at once. The sheer absurdity of the monuments themselves—they are overtly precarious, purposeless or otherwise self-contained; in a word, Dadaist—simply facilitates transcendence: the element of motion becomes a metaphor for the circuit of daily routine. Thus, Zimoun brings the concept to life as an uncanny manifestation of both the cohesiveness and the prevalence of background noise in everyday experience. Here, the kinetic 'causes' the sonic, elevating ambient noise to abstract art by amplifying, so to speak, an otherwise imperceptible sense of pure presence.
Again, my comments are based purely on the video documentation of these pieces as opposed a firsthand encounter with them, a contemporary issue that is subject to an entirely different discussion about the art object in the digital age.
Critique aside, I'd recommend visiting either—or both, if you happen to be travelling from the UK to Florida (or vice versa) for the holidays—of the works in person. Even in full screen HD, Vimeo can't hope to do justice to large-scale installation pieces.
Nils Völker's "Forty Eight" is currently on view at the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery as part of the exhibition Lost in Lace until February 19, 2012.
The Zimoun works pictured here, which date from the past two years, constitute his current solo exhibtion at the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida: «Sculpting Sound
», curated by Matthew McLendon, is on view through January 8, 2012.