Review: ‘3-2-1’ – Andre Vida at Anri Sala exhibition / Serpentine Gallery

Anri Sala – 3-2-1 2011
Performance view, Serpentine Gallery, London
© 2011 Sylvain Deleu

‘3-2-1’ – Andre Vida at Anri Sala exhibition
(Serpentine Gallery, 30 September 2011; review and drawing below by Geoff Winston)

Saxophonist Andre Vida accepted, with relish but some trepidation, Anri Sala’s epic challenge to improvise nine 30 minute performances daily in the Albanian artist’s sound work ‘3-2-1’ during his 7 week Serpentine Gallery exhibition.

On the opening day, the first two of over 400 performances will have steadied Vida’s nerves as he responded with invention and fluency to Sala’s tight yet, by its very nature, open-ended brief, a 3-part framework focused on Sala’s 13 minute film, ‘Long Sorrow’, made in 2005, in which Jemeel Moondoc was filmed improvising on alto sax while suspended from the 18th floor of a bleak Berlin tower block.

Sala is a compulsively articulate and questioning artist, working primarily with film, who consistently looks to expand the potential offered by the presentation of his works. A deceptive simplicity veils the rigorously choreographed sequence of events which link the four exhibited films and other related works with Vida’s live performance to shape the visitor’s experience in the elegantly transformed spaces of the Serpentine Gallery. Each performance will be recorded by the radio mike carried by the musician.

The film’s final edit – from a series of 10-minute takes, a time span dictated by the musician’s precarious aerial setting – is a dizzying sequence of close-ups of Moondoc’s face, exterior and overhead views and deadpan shots through the apartment’s window. The soundtrack comprises only his playing and coincident ambient sound. Sala then put Moondoc into a Paris recording studio to improvise against the original soundtrack. This is where Vida entered, in the first of 3 rooms through which his participation is mapped.

Andre Vida
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston – All rights reserved

Announced by a low, intense drone from his tenor, Vida moved close to an exterior wall perforated by small apertures through which shafts of daylight streamed, and combined with Moondoc’s double tracking to create a soaring, fluid tenor trio – the ‘3’ of ‘3-2-1’. When a church bell tolled on the soundtrack, Vida responded with trills and unvoiced sounds in the mouthpiece.

Sala’s stipulated peregrinations saw Vida draw visitors, pied-piper-like, in to the second room, the gallery’s high-domed central chamber, for the start of the showing of ‘Long Sorrow’ and his virtual duet with Moondoc – the ‘2’ of ‘3-2’1’. At the heart of this confrontation is a sense of monumentality deriving from Sala’s fastidious directorial vision, similar to that of Thomas Struth’s massive, obsessively composed photographs. Vida slowly walked to the left of the screen, playing eloquently in a state of high alert to what he saw and heard, and then in front of the projected film, casting a shadow, creating a disarming trompe l’oeil superimposition on giant blinking eyes shot through with the travails of life.

In both of these early performances Vida invested this phase of the work with the feel of a live duet. In the first, Vida provided a flowing undercurrent to Moondoc’s rich phrasing and occasional vocalisations. In the second, he complemented vocal and instrumental patterns, matching for volume and intensity, before switching to a lighter accompaniment. Vida then moved through to the third room for a final 4-minute solo improvisation – the ‘1’ of ‘3-2-1’ – or, as he prefers to refer to it, using Steve Lacy’s term, ‘spontaneous composition’. Roaring, puttering and squeaking punctuated this personal, almost private performance for those present in the gallery, its conclusion coinciding with the projection of ‘Tlatelolco Clash’ (2011), just as the cessation of ‘Le Clash’ (2010) signalled the start of ‘3-2-1’.

Music is such an important structural component of Sala’s work. The two films which use ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’, transposed for barrel-organ, as their lynchpins, have ethereal echoes of Willem Breuker’s record, ‘Lunchconcert for Three Barrelorgans’ (1969), recorded in a public space in Amsterdam. An irresistible power drum riff forms an essential part of the narrative of ‘Answer Me’ (2008), and musical fragments are programmed in to the entire sequence. The stunning technical quality achieved by Sala and his dedicated team ensures that the artist’s intent – a ‘Gesamkunstwerk’, effectively – is achieved.

That a high profile contemporary artist has elected to engage with the more challenging end of the jazz spectrum is to be welcomed, not least because in Vida’s virtuosic hands and with Sala’s overriding intellect, this opens possibilities for live improvisation to reach out to a new audience.

Hans Ulrich Obrist, the Serpentine Gallery’s Co-Director of Exhibitions and Programmes, champions exhibitions which “invent new rules of the game”. What could be more fitting than this unique juxtaposition of genres?

The ‘Anri Sala’ exhibition runs to 20 November, open 10am – 6pm daily, with 9 performances of ‘3-2’1’ daily, including improvisations by Andre Vida or Caroline Kraabel (check with venue).

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