Kings Place, London
By Alice Baker
One of the rare opportunities for artists to act as a rather superior sort of composer-cum-disc jockey was provided by the Sonica festival at Kings Place last weekend, newly arrived in London from Glasgow. The aim was to marry the visual and auditory arts through installations in which sound effects and music create atmosphere and a sense of immersion.
And the theme of first evening’s programme also revolved around the interplay of disparate elements, in this case the industrial and natural world. First up was Mark Lyken’s video installation The Terrestrial Sea, whose stated aim was to explore the ‘diverse and ever-changing environments’ of the Cromarty Firth in Northern Scotland. Close-up images of both man-made objects – anchor chains, cranes, a lighthouse – and natural objects – grasses, water – were juxtaposed, overlaid or segued into one another, frequently at unconventional angles (for example, a diagonal shot of the surface of the sea), accompanied by sounds which seemed both to arise organically from the images and to create them. In one particularly striking example, seaweeds streaked across the camera while the soundtrack’s perfectly timed flows, gurgles and squeaks evoked a very visceral sense in the viewer of being underwater, almost of drowning. Unfortunately though, not all aspects worked so well; in particular, one sequence, in which various voices repeated staccato phrases (such as ‘impersonating stars’ or ‘red, green and blue’) over one another while the camera moved along the lighthouse’s spiral staircase. While this was impressive, it seemed only tangentially related to the main theme.
In the second film, North of X by the Chinese artist Sisi Lu, we saw a series of sequences in which mirrored pairs or quartets of images of factory machinery, trees or mountains were brought together or drawn apart in the style of a kaleidoscope, while the artist himself mixed the accompanying musical soundtrack. The film was often extremely beautiful, especially in one sequence where a series of still images of a sunrise over a mountain range were rapidly laid over one another so that the light appeared to explode across the camera. However, the soundtrack, while never inappropriate, did not seem so well integrated with the images as in The Terrestrial Sea. The result felt more like a very clever music video.
These reservations aside, Sonica offered an immersive and thought-provoking experience, and is well worth making the trip up to Scotland for next year’s showing.