Thursday 26 February 2015

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Nothing But A Symphony

, Jae Wook Lee

Nothing But A Symphony is a four-minute-and-twenty-second-long single channel video. The video sees the world as vibrating melodies in unison. The Korean top cellist Jungran Lee plays an invisible cello in concert with jellyfishes, and primary colors, creating a rhythmical harmony of Nature: the cellist, the jellyfishes, and the primary colors appear and re-appear respectively on the timeline of the video, creating a cadence. This arrangement between human and non-human performances levels the subject-object relationship through a non-anthropocentric point of view.

Cellist Lee focuses on how to perform imagination: she explores how to sense things not from external stimuli but through intensive imagination and association in both visual and auditory levels. In the video, Lee plays the” air-cello” by remembering a piece of music. She uses her memory of the music to activate the action of playing the cello, and the action retroactively helps stimulate her auditory memory. The imagining that one is playing an instrument can be almost as efficacious as playing the actual instrument. That is to say, the cello player embodies her imagination in a performance by playing the cello in her mind.

Her performance lies between absence and presence, matter and essence. By matter, I mean what constitutes a cello in a material manner, i.e., strings, wood panels, etc. The essence is what constitutes a cello as a cello; a cello cannot be a cello by itself; it requires a set of relations; a cello needs a cellist, music to play, adequate skills, etc. In the video the material entity of a cello is absent, while what constitutes the essence, the network of relations that a cello implies, is present. A cello is subtracted, leaving a void thereafter. However, the void is not empty, but it is filled out by the viewer’s imagination. The true essence of the performance is an event called imagination.

However, this imaginative musical performance is interfered by the juxtaposition with the jellyfishes. Since the jellyfishes’ lively movement looks similar to the cellist’s body, Lee’s invisible musical act appears a bodily vibration. There is a doubling here; the cellist’s body structurally avoids to be seen clearly determinable because of its double presence as subject and object; she is not only a subject because she consciously plays the invisible cello, but also an object because it is seen as a bodily fluctuation like a jellyfish; her body is not just the sign of a musical performance, but also a thing of flesh quivers. I find this analogy from writer Juliane Rebentisch’s recently account on Michael Fried’s theatricality in her book Aesthetics of Installation Art:

Writing about the stage presence of the object, Fried himself in fact describes the relationship of the viewer to the Minimalist object not as one defined by the viewer’s command over "his" object, but as a form of manifested uncertainty on the part of the viewing subject. Neither thing nor sign and yet both at the same time, the object does not seem clearly determinable - it appears to elude any definitive establishment of meaning or literalness, instead confronting the viewer with a dynamic of mutually conflicting productions and subversions of meaning that cannot be brought to rest either by projecting a particular meaning or by determining formal facts. (Juliane Rebentisch, Aesthetics of Installation Art, p53)

The minimalist objects appear as both a thing with material properties and a sign as art. This oscillating double presence triggers the viewer’s dynamic conscious comprehension towards the object. Nothing But A Symphony constantly switches our conscious decisions on the cellist’s body and the jellyfishes, flipping a coin between subject and object.

Finally, the primary colors that include red, yellow, blue, black, and white, add richer rhythmical vibrancies to the video. The colors are different wavelengths of light. The flow of light is actualized into certain colors through our eyes. In this sense, we experience vibrations in visual forms. We perceive the vibrancies of the colors, hear the invisible rhythm of a cello, and observe the tremors of jellyfishes in a balanced cadence. That is to say, the cellist, the jellyfishes, and the primary colors create a musical harmony together, offering the inter-sensorial experience: it is a symphony of multi-sensations by both the human and the non-human actors.