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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

MoMA to expand

Posted: 13 Jan 2014 10:55 PM PST

The New York museum's expansion will see the American Folk Art Museum demolished.

The American Folk Art Museum is to be demolished and replaced by a contemporary structure as part of ambitious expansion plans for the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), it was confirmed this week.

The 13-year-old building in downtown New York, which is known for its distinctive beaten copper facade, will be torn down to make way for MoMA's glass-fronted structure housing two flexible exhibition and performance spaces. The new building will feature a glass wall which can be raised to allow direct access to a ticket-free area of the museum directly from street level.

The redesign and expansion is being carried out by architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and construction is set to begin in summer 2014. It is estimated that the project will enlarge MoMA's current gallery space by around 3,700 sq m.

The decision to raze the folk museum, procured by MoMA in 2011, was met with backlash within the architectural world when the news was originally announced in April 2013, and plans were revised to investigate ways of incorporating the existing building.

However, MoMA Director Glenn Lowry said in a statement released that the building could not be preserved without losing its integrity.

"The architects have been exploring the site holistically, with the goal of generating as many options as possible for achieving a thoughtfully resolved set of galleries and public spaces for the museum," said Lowry. "After a lengthy and rigorous analysis, we have approved Diller Scofidio + Renfro's recommendation for a new building on the site of the former museum." — AFP Relaxnews

Shifting sound shapes

Posted: 11 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

Sound as an art form is gaining prominence and acceptance in museums and galleries around the world.

The sounds of Indian activists chanting and reciting poems fill Tate Modern's Project Space in London, part of Amar Kanwar's A Night Of Prophecy (2002). Nearby, Lawrence Abu Hamdan's voice map, Conflicted Phonemes (2012), explores the influence of accent on Somali asylum seekers, offering a visual interpretation of their speech.

The two works were part of last year's sound-art exhibition Word. Sound. Power. that, according to Tate Modern's website, "takes a moment to listen to the harmony and dissonance of voices rising".

Tate Modern is not alone in exploring art through the ears.

"Sound art is having a moment right now," said Gascia Ouzounian, a lecturer at the Sonic Arts Research Center at Queen's University Belfast, by e-mail. "A wave of recent exhibitions has very much brought sound art to the attention of the wider public."

That attention was captured with the opening of Soundings: A Contemporary Score last August, the first-ever major exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York dedicated to sound art. But the form is gaining prominence and acceptance in museums and galleries around the world, with the success of SoundFjord, a London gallery dedicated exclusively to sonic exhibitions and research; the exhibition RPM: Sound Art China which travelled to Shanghai from Hamilton, New York, in October; and a slew of recent exhibitions in locations as diverse as Hong Kong, Paris and Karlsruhe in Germany.

"Artists brought sound into their work a long time ago," explained Barbara London, the curator of the Soundings show at the Museum of Modern Art, "yet working with the 'material' of sound as an art form and its conceptualization has recently expanded dramatically."

The phenomenon is not limited to the United States.

"In New York, as well as Stockholm, London, Milan, Kobe, Melbourne and Delhi, art centres known as 'Alternative spaces' emerged and for decades have supported the evolving sonic arts," said London. "Sound art is a global phenomenon."

Sound is at the heart of Dajuin Yao's work. He is based in Hangzhou, China.

"China is one of the noisiest countries in the world," said Yao, "and 'sound art' plays a very crucial and ironic role in the society here."

In Garden Of Buddhahood, a piece by Yao, the audience walks between lotus lamps that play recordings of monks chanting. It is, the artist said, a subconscious tribute to Steve Reich's celebrated Come Out – which uses a single source, a recording of Daniel Hamm, injured in the Harlem riots of 1964.

According to research by Seth Cluett of Princeton University, there were 128 sound art exhibitions in museums worldwide from 2000 to 2009, up from just 21 from 1970 to 1979; and Ouzounian said that over the past four years the number of sound art exhibitions has continued to rise rapidly. That expansion can, in many ways, be attributed to advances in technology, but also to a desire to push the boundaries of art.

In an international art world dominated by visual works, sound has long been perceived as a challenging and esoteric medium.

Traditionally, the term has been used to describe works by artists who choose sound or hearing as a topic or medium, generally without musical notations or musicians to interpret. As far back as 1913, the Italian Futurist Luigi Rusollo wrote a manifesto titled The Art Of Noises, in which he described the modern urban soundscape and its musicality.

Many artists and curators today have opted for a more flexible definition of the art form, rejecting experimental music or composition as a requisite but allowing for strong visual or conceptual components. In some cases, sound art has no aural elements at all.

At the Museum of Modern Art, for instance, some exhibits, like Camille Norment's Triplight are silent. That piece features an excavated, brightly lit 1955 Shure microphone that casts a pattern of flickering shadows.

Haroon Mirza, a London-based artist who was awarded the Silver Lion at the 54th Venice Biennale for his installations Sick and The National Apvailion Of Then And Now, suggests these flexible boundaries can mask a superficial disdain from the visual art world toward sound.

"I think the art world sometimes likes to take the easy option," said Mirza. He warned that the recent interest in sound art may be of limited duration.

"I would argue that the interest in sound art is more of a fad partly related to the 100th birthday of John Cage in 2012," he said. Cage challenged conventional definitions of music, and his 4:33, a work of silence, was considered by many to be more a philosophical statement than a musical composition.

Even at institutions of higher learning with a history of fairly traditional approaches to the arts, sound has made its way onto the curriculum.

Columbia University in New York began offering last autumn a master's degree in Sound Art, a joint program of its department of music and its school of the arts.

Degrees in sound art are also available at the University of Brighton in England; at the Nordic Sound Art Program, which offers a master's degree in partnership with various institutions in Scandinavia, and the Sonic Arts Research Center in Belfast, among others.

While sound-recording technology has been around for over a century, innovations continue to open fresh avenues of artistic exploration. For Voice, one of the pieces at the Word. Sound. Power. show at Tate Modern, for instance, the French-Norwegian artist Caroline Bergvall used a transducer that transforms the surface it is placed on into an output speaker.

"Placed on my entrance window," she said, "the viewer walks through a relocated voice. This technology was not available even a few years ago."

"We now see artists making use of new technologies including multichannel audio systems, computer-programming software, and computer-mediated sound spatialization, for example in installations by the French artist Cédric Maridet," said Yang Yeung, a Hong Kong-based curator and the founder of an organisation called Soundpocket.

Even a mobile phone can become a creative force. Surabhi Saraf, an Indian sound artist and performer, attaches a tiny stereo microphone to hers.

Saraf's Grains, shown at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco in May, explored the idea of a single grain of sound. Layers of Saraf's vocals were combined with recordings of trickling grains, and the auditory experience was enhanced by live image projections.

The growing affordability of recording devices, combined with innovative new technologies, has helped sound become an increasingly entrenched part of the gallery and museum world, said Bergvall.

While some works consist of a simple file in MP3 format, installations can pose unique challenges for buyers and curators, as they can incorporate complex technological or gargantuan sculptural elements. Many museums and galleries remain wary of the medium because sound is deemed more intrusive than a sculpture or painting.

So far, neither Christie's nor Sotheby's has sold a work of sound art. But Benjamin Godsill, a contemporary art specialist at the auction house Phillips, sees strong potential for the sale of works featuring sound to private buyers.

"The market has a tremendous ability to take the avant garde and find sellable items within it," he said.

The Danish sound artist Jacob Kirkegaard has sold installations, images and recordings of his work.

"It is possible to change and adapt works of sound for different spaces," Kirkegaard pointed out. "If you ask me, a sound art piece can be many things; photos, objects or things that only sound occasionally, or very, very quietly."

In 2008, Kirkegaard sold four photos of the recording sites of his installation Aion, now at the Museum of Modern Art, to a private buyer. Aion features recordings created in abandoned spaces in Chernobyl, Ukraine.

If the visual art world continues to turn toward sound, more sales and commissions could follow – especially if sound artists are willing to adapt their works to different spaces.

"I do hope that artists who are less known within the mainstream visual art world, but who have been influential within sound art will find increasingly sustained support," said Ouzounian, mentioning the works of artists like Anna Friz, Christina Kubisch and Kaffe Matthews.

Still, it seems for many artists, sales are not the ultimate goal.

"A lot of sound art is not made from an intention to be sold," said Saraf. "It is more about the act of listening and experiencing the space in relation to the sound." — IHT

Dissolving borders

Posted: 11 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

The 9th Angkor Photo Festival in Siem Reap, Cambodia, highlighted promising talents from this region while promoting compelling photography.

FOR the last eight days of November last year, the elegant FCC (Foreign Correspondents Club) Angkor, on the banks of Siem Reap River, Cambodia, was the setting for the Angkor Photo Festival's nightly slideshows.

The French colonial property, once a stomping ground for foreign correspondents, had been taken over by photographers showcasing their beautiful, haunting and powerful visual tales of the world around us.

On opening night, works from 23 photographers were featured, among them images of Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk's funeral, sombre photographs of the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh (when a garment factory collapsed) and surreal shots of post Soviet high-rises. The night air was balmy with star-studded skies above as viewers sprawled on the grass or lounged on chairs, some chatting quietly, most gazing contemplatively at the screen. It was this magic of place and spirit that beckoned Che' Ahmad Azhar to return to the festival for the second time.

"It is an amazing experience, you can hang out in the open air while looking at great photography. The environment is so beautiful and relaxed," said the Malaysian photographer and lecturer.

The Angkor Photo Festival exhibitions and slideshows were free and open to the public, so anyone could wander over to the lush Raffles Grand Hotel dâ¿¿Angkor Gardens in Siem Reap, Cambodia. - Oyen Rodriguez

The Angkor Photo Festival exhibitions and slideshows were free, so anyone could wander over to the lush Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor Gardens in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Over about one week, the Angkor Photo Festival presented a visual feast. It had eight exhibitions and seven slideshow presentations featuring 130 photographers, over half of whom are from Asia.

The exhibitions and slideshows were free and open to the public, so anyone could wander over to the lush Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor Gardens and view Liu Jie's portraits of rural Chinese families torn apart by emigration. Or take in Herbie Yamaguchi's quiet reflection on Japan during its post-war recovery at the McDermott Gallery. Over at The Loft, the festival's current headquarters and meeting point, festival-goers gathered and mingled beside temporary corrugated walls displaying images of the Palestine struggle.

On several nights, everyone gathered at the FCC Angkor for the slideshows, curated by programme director Francoise Callier. There were two guest curators in 2013, Shahidul Alam, director of the biennial Chobi Mela festival in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Jean-Francois Leroy, director of Visa pour l'image in Perpignan, France.

Shahidul presented Taking Humour Seriously for a lighter-hearted take on photography, while Leroy curated a series of photojournalistic and social documentary works, which included David Guttenfelder's inside view of North Korea and Fausto Podavini's compelling series on Alzheimer's, which won him a World Press Photo award.

The Angkor Photo Fesival was founded by Jean-Yves Navel, Gary Knight of the VII Agency and a group of photographer friends in 2005 to support the emerging photography scene in the region. Navel is the festival director, and Francoise Callier came on board in 2006 as the festival's programme director. The festival has grown in its nine years, attracting increasing numbers of participants and attendees to become the longest running and arguably the most important (photography) festival in the South-East Asian region.

"Asian photographers sometimes have difficulty crossing borders, so this festival helps to bridge that by giving them exposure. We try to be a bridge between the continents and the work showcased here often travels around the world to countries like Japan, China and France," explained Callier.

Nightly slideshows at the lush FCC Angkor venue. -  Oyen Rodriguez

Nightly slideshows were held at the lush FCC Angkor venue. — OYEN RODRIGUEZ

"It is not a very big festival, but it is an important one for discoveries and to showcase young photographers. We are always looking for unknown stories and emerging talents that nobody knows," she continued.

One of the biggest draws of the festival has always been the Angkor Photo Workshops, a critical scholarship to recognise and train promising emerging photographers from Asia. Each year, young photographers below the age of 28 are chosen to undergo an intense workshop under the tutelage of prominent photographers like Patrick de Noirmont, Kosuke Okahara and Antoine D'Agata.

In 2013, the festival committee had over 250 applications and 30 candidates were picked for the programme, including one from Malaysia. "We chose the participants based on quality and their dedication," said Jessica Lim, the festival coordinator.

The workshops culminated in a screening of the young photographers' projects on closing night at the Raffles Grand Hotel D'Angkor with a winner for the best photo story prize. The 2013 winner was Neak Sophal, a graduate from Phnom Penh's Royal University of Fine Arts. Her entry, Hang On, is an intriguing portrayal of the hardships of Cambodian daily lives.

"Out of the 30 students, some will go on to success. They have talent, of course, but the festival gives them a foot in the door," said Callier.

She remembered discovering Sean Lee, then a quiet 21-year-old Singaporean who had presented a series of 12 photographs of his family in his application. The images' quietude and sense of alienation impressed her and she signed him up for the workshop.

Lee has since embarked on a successful photography career, winning awards and accolades, as well as exhibiting widely in Singapore and around the region; he currently has a solo exhibition at the Singapore Biennale with a new work entitled Gardens (the biennale is on at various locations in Singapore until Feb 16; visit

One of Japanese leading photographer Herbie Yamaguchi's monochromatic photographs (taken during the late 1960s/early 1970s) featured at the Angkor Photo Festival.

One of Japanese photographer Herbie Yamaguchi's monochromatic photos (taken during the late 1960s/early 1970s) featured at the Angkor Photo Festival.

Other alumni have gone on to carve a name for themselves, too. Anshika Varma Kohli has photographed for her local edition of National Geographic in India, while Kuala Lumpur-based Rahman Roslan is a photojournalist who has worked for Getty Images, Bloomberg and The New York Times. The participants remain involved with the festival, returning as tutors in the Anjali Photo Workshops.

"I was a workshop participant three years ago, and when I came back this time, I wasn't sure if anyone would remember me. But as I walked into The Loft, there was such a warm welcome. It was really nice. It's like belonging to a family and a community, which I think is really important to us. We learn and grown from each other," said Kohli, a freelance photographer based in New Delhi, India.

"The festival is like a big family and we try to make it accessible. It is extremely important we keep the festival informal," said Callier.

The informality and easy-going nature of the festival is what makes it special. It gives promising young photographers the rare opportunity to rub shoulders and seek advice from the likes of John Vink and Antoine D'Agata, both from renowned Magnum Photos, whether it is at the nightly social gatherings or during portfolio reviews.

"Free portfolio reviews for five days is a dream come true for many emerging and even established photographers," said visitor Ryan Libre, a photographer, filmmaker and founder of the Chiang Mai Documentary Arts Festival. "This was my second time here and I enjoyed it even more than the first, and will be back next year for sure."

With some sectors heralding the death of professional photography in the face of camera phones and increasingly accessible technology, a festival such as Angkor Photo Festival reaffirmed its importance while lending support to the regional community.

Callier summed it up: "The Liberation in France published an issue with no photographs, and it had a huge impact. With photography, you can sometimes take it for granted. But once you see something powerful, it remains with you forever."

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