During the past fifty years in the Fluxus era the parameters of visual experimentation within musical performance have been enormously expended. This experimentation reconfigures the traditional view of musical performance to a new, alternatively engaging experience, one that embodies sound and space with object and image, resulting in a refreshing composition.
In this light, Degrees of Freedom by a Polish art group, BNNT was not just an illustration. The performance was intertwined with sound and object installation, and physically occupied one of the current exhibitions at the ICA, Space Painting by a Chinese artist, Zhang Enli. The first impression on the set for the performance was overwhelmed by a dreamlike spatial aesthetic. The free, brightly multicoloured and unobstructed way of brush touch painting wholly encompassed the walls and floor. However, this dynamic visual impact was more culminated with intermittently bursting punk rock and noisy sounds by a drummer, Daniel Szwed strikingly banging cymbals and gongs. His drumming performance seemed to reach almost noisy utopian state. On the far side of the Space Painting, black wooden battens were displayed against the wall as part of the performance installation. They were trembled subtly sometimes noticeably by invisible vibration generated from the tremendous energy of the sound. Eventually they fell down on the floor during the performance as if they were interacting with the provocative sound. It created a curious combination of the visual media in a live performance context, with an intangible air of excitement about the intense noise and sound frequency within the site-specific painting show.
One of the visual attractions in the performance was that the artist, Konrad Smoleński, playing an audio object called the Baritone Missile which was designed by the artist himself. This weapon, or guitar-like sonic piece, was constructed with various things combining the elements of an instrument which has an extremely low tone, and sometimes sounded almost muted during the performance, contrasting with the drummer’s deafeningly loud and random variable playing. Smoleński’s performance paradoxically appeared with inaudible acoustic tension, yet with a humorous allegorical visual impact, he seemed to be armed as a freedom fighter. The artist, who has visual art background, has ironically mentioned that he cannot play any instruments in a musical sense¹. Thus, his enigmatic piece looked rather like an abstract sculpture with a military motif as opposed to a traditional instrument. The performance, which seemed to be neither improvised nor intended by the two half-naked artists in black masks, looked anonymously guerrilla-esque and simultaneously evoked unrestricted and sheer ecstasy.
The manner of the BNNT’s performance was closely associated with the Nam June Paik’s Fluxus object performance. The art form itself was mostly materialised as events or performance art pieces. It has been described as attempting to make something nobody else has done before, and through crossing over artistic genres and styles and making much use of humour. The attempts were meant to blur the borders between performance and reality, performer and audience² .
In short, Degrees of Freedom created the socially expressive interaction between the site-specific live performance and the viewers. It allowed them to perceive the multi-sensory experience not only by hearing and seeing but also by feeling their whole body with the powerful sound sensation. That being the case, Degrees of Freedom by BNNT can be regarded as a total work of art. This Neo-Fluxian outcome shows a continuing attempt to blend different artistic media and disciplines, and re-explores the inter-media practices in contemporary art.
¹SMOLEŃSKI, K. (2013). S.T.R.H (Stones That Rest Heavily), The Solo Exhibition by Konrad Smoleński: The Laznia Centre for Contemporary Art, Exhibition catalogue pp. 26
² HANHARDT, G. J. (2013). Nam June Paik: Global Visionary, The United Kingdom: GILES.
Written by: Miseongoa Shin
BNNT are audio performances by Konrad Smoleński and Daniel Szwed, which are held in open public spaces of a city, or in the institutionalised spaces of galleries and festival venues. The band members travel in a van which serves them as an improvised stage where they perform in balaclavas or masks. Each performance involves a sonic attack with the use of a string instrument modelled on the Tomahawk missile (Konrad Smoleński) and a drum set (Daniel Szwed). This is an interdisciplinary project involving both public performance – the so called sound bombing – and publishing activity, which the duo have run for a few years now.
Miseongoa Shin completed MA in Arts Administration & Cultural Policy at Goldsmiths University of London in 2011. Currently, she has been working as a gallery assistant at the Saatchi Gallery in London and working as an independent curator organising an annual contemporary visual art exhibition called Ongoing Contemporary Art Projects. In 2012, she curated her first curatorial project, titled Crypta Silent Monologue, taking place in the crypt of St. Pancras Church in London, showcasing 17 artists based in the U.K. The exhibition aimed to present an alternative and unorthodox way of looking at the relationship between the historical architectural qualities of the crypt and various forms of cutting-edge contemporary artworks, exploring concept, form and technique from across craft, performance art, digital media and fine arts. In 2013, she participated as a co-curator in IM Information in Style: Information Visualisation in the UK Art and Design Exhibition at Central Academy of Fine Arts Museum (CAFA) in Beijing, China, presenting works of 13 artists, scientists and designers from the U.K. The show invited data art, interactive installation and information design with the objective to present art and technology in a collaborative field, bring the distance between abstract data and its audience. She is a doctoral candidate and her research focuses on the multiple ways of architectural intervention engaging with a site-specific contemporary curatorial practice. More Information: Exhibition Catalogue, www.cryptasilentmonologue.com, http://informationinstyle.com/
The performance Degrees of Freedom by BNNT (Konrad Smoleński and Daniel Szwed) took place at ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts) on the 3rd of December 2013. This new commission was realised in partnership with Jazz and Experimental Music from Poland festival (JEMP), produced by Arts Territory, supported by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland, and the Arts Council England.