A ubiquitous feature at most art exhibitions is some variation on the ‘DO NOT TOUCH THE ART’ sign; a surly security guard, a cordon subtly but firmly separating audience from artist, a general feeling that chin-stroking contemplation and a safe distance from the work is expected. Richard Kean’s new installation ‘Aural Labyrinth’ flips the script on these norms and instead directly encourages and almost demands participation from those who visit.
This new piece consists of a series of acoustic strings, stretching out stretch out along the walls and vaulting to the ceilings of the 300 cubic metre room. Sounds are made when people touch the strings, which are affixed to the space with objects roughly approximating the frets of a guitar. The transformation of the room into a giant instrument is not merely a vessel for the interactivity but allows the piece to also function as a large scale, minimalist, visually striking response to the grey walls, wooden pillars and exposed beams of the space.
The setup means strangers can become instant collaborators and co-conspirators in a fun, messy, musical melange. One of the real pleasures of the installation is watching the looks on people’s faces as they react and reply, often with surprise and laughter, to the discordant musical interjections of those around them. The artist himself does perform on the installation, and proved a surprisingly accomplished practitioner of this most unlikely of instruments, but generally the work becomes a kind of toy instrument cacophony as multiple people pluck strings and have the sounds overlap and reverberate around the space.
Kean is a Sydney-based artist whose previous works have focused on the interplay between space and sound, and here he has come up with a work of real playfulness. This seems inspired in roughly equal measures by heavy art theory on the relationship between a site and the art and the artist and audience and those giant keyboards that you could walk across in toy scores as a kid. No two people experience find the work exactly the same and that’s the beauty of it. This is art you can touch, pull, pluck and play with to your heart’s content.
Originally appeared in: Concrete Playground