DAVID RYAN

Ryan 01

Questions of site and site-specificity have informed my work for some time, although it may well be questions around the intertwining of site-specificity with site-fluidity that is most pertinent here.  An example of this is an installation first shown at the Cut in Halesworth in April 2007.  While video and sound had, for some time, accompanied my practice as a painter, I was still searching and interrogating what might constitute a kind of abstraction in video.  I was intrigued by Morton Feldman’s observation of abstraction not as style or ‘form repertoire’ but as a kind of ‘consciousness’ engendered by the address of the work and the relationship between the viewer and work.  Like much of my work, the installation at the Cut, explored a kind of formal doubling in the space.  Two large video screens faced each other with the sound rather obliquely positioned to the images.  The video was in two parts (the title was Prelude-Postlude, another doubling although this time temporal: before and after) and used footage from two cities: London (Docklands) and Rome (EUR). The footage from London was perhaps the more ‘painterly’ – where superimposed blocks (reflecting my paintings) disrupted the space and yet constituted a kind of flow; by contrast, the Rome footage was relentlessly static, choosing a viewpoint from two ends of a passageway in the EUR district.  Locating image and sound always plays with our memories, often of the cinematic.  I was keen, however, in this instance to avoid narrative – and present simply a sense of different types of motion side by side. 

This piece was developed and reworked for a showing at the British Film Institute, London, as part of a symposium entitled ‘Sonic Illuminations’ in 2008.   Here, the score was performed live by a quintet of musicians from London and Rome.  In this version, the original footage of the London site was redeveloped as an exploration of colour and light.

Another example of site-specificity was a video film that explored the house of the composer Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988) in Rome.  Scelsi was a composer of beautifully static, often microtonal works whose strange rather eccentric lifestyle as a composer had brought him, late in his career, both fame and infamy.  He once suggested that in order to understand his music it was necessary to know where he lived: at an historical intersection of the occident and orient (according to him) in Rome.  This, in a way, was the starting point of an interrogation, visually and sonically, of this house.   Several issues drew me to Scelsi: his attraction toward sound itself rather than its notation as a starting point; his use of improvisation; and the rather enigmatic use of an early electronic instrument, the ondiola, for composing.  In 2020 I re-edited a short extract from the longer film version for the Fondazione Scelsi, which also features two extracts from a vocal composition Hô performed by the Rome-based singer Sabina Meyer. 
Going back to the original Cut exhibition, I also showed paintings, although it was very much an exhibition of two parts: painting, and then a video installation bringing together my work in that media and music.  More recently I have tried to bring together diverse media within a site.  In the group Exhibition, ‘The Undersides of Practice’ (2020) at APT Gallery, Deptford, London, curated by Della Gooden and Catherine Ferguson, I exhibited two large paintings that were echoed, opposite, by a wall drawing which was a sort of free inversion of the paintings.  Bridging these works was a composition for double bass and soundtrack that shared in its notation some aspects of the visual works.   While this installation, called Sanjo (‘scattered melodies’ in a particular Korean tradition of performance) was concerned with ideas around repetition, presence and absence of materials and an indeterminate layering, I was struck in revisiting the Cut installation how it had functioned, possibly, as a prototype of this kind of articulation of the space.   

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Ryan 02       

Ryan 03          

   

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