Venice – You could have been fooled into thinking that the Icelandic Pavilion at this year’s Venice Art Biennale was just well executed Instagram fodder. Chromo Sapiens had, upon first glance, all the requisite trappings of such photogenic spaces: a cave-like controlled environment, bright neon hues and an odd use of material – floor-to-ceiling synthetic hair, made to look as if troll dolls were hanging bat-like from the ceiling, forming mane stalactites.
But for Shoplifter, the artist behind the installation, the visual fest was a means to an end: those who ventured out to the quiet street on the island of Giudecca, far from the Giardini and the Arsenale, found themselves in one of the most serenely haunting sound installations the event has offered in years. ‘Instagram is limited to a tiny screen and tiny speaker, and by design is different from the actual real world surrounding us,’ said the New York-based creator, whose real name is Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir. ‘I aimed at creating full analogue multisensory experience when you are surrounded by the real world, which includes sound coming from all around.’
On your phone, you can’t savour the shock of having 24 meticulously positioned speakers shower you with soundwaves
To be sure, multichannel sound installations are experiencing a surge these days: as Instagram’s audiovisual capabilities render many trips to experiential installations relatively unnecessary, artists and designers are fighting back by engaging the senses that still aren’t served by Facebook’s mighty app – that explains the rise in haptic, olfactory and sound experiences we’ve seen as of late. Here at Frame we refer to that trend as ‘the thinking woman’s Instagram shot’: most of these installations are meant for a female audience, but by providing an (often didactic) element of you-had-to-be-there, institutional shows and brands are taking back the reigns of the in-situ experience. In other words: on your phone, you can’t savour the shock of having 24 meticulously positioned speakers shower you with soundwaves.
But what made Shoplifter’s proposal so effective wasn’t just the captivatingly eerie eight-minute composition by Icelandic metal band HAM – sound engineer Timothy Glasgow and producer Skúli Sverrisson went so far as to record and mix the piece inside the three caves after they had been set up, for added precision. The magic came from an often overseen technical aspect: many multichannel installations rely on a series of amplifiers placed at flying-V formation or a square setup at an average ear height – often, that of a man, as displayed in installations such as James Richards’ Music for the gift, Zad Moultaka’s SamaS and Hassan Khan’s Composition for a Public Park, from the 2017 edition of the art biennale.
Some people compared this piece to real virtual reality experience, without virtual goggles and gear