SONIC YOUTH etc. : SENSATIONAL FIX - MUSEION, BOLZANO/BOZEN, ITALY (UNTIL 04.01.2009)
Exhibition: Most people probably know Sonic Youth (Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, and Steve Shelley) as an experimental guitar band, and to a lesser extent as the multidisciplinary cultural protagonists they have been ever since the collective surfaced in 1981. From day one, Sonic Youth has been exploring and mapping unknown cultural territories through their activities as a band and as four individual musicians, visual artists or cultural entrepreneurs, each member with his or her specific ties to and within the international cultural scene. Through collaborations with musicians, visual artists, filmmakers, fashion designers, writers and other equally creative spirits, Sonic Youth expanded their artistic potential, which by now – 27 years later – could be defined as a true Sonic Universe.
Before the Sonic Boom, in 1981, both Kim Gordon and Lee Ranaldo were trained as artists who upon arrival in New York City in the late 1970s started playing in bands rather than dedicating themselves fully to the production of visual art. This was the case with many of their artist friends as well, like Glenn Branca, Richard Prince or Robert Longo. The artist Dan Graham was a central figure in this constellation of visual artists/musicians, and was known to schlep his barely portable tape recorder to concerts of punk rock and no wave bands to record these performances, which were often held in art galleries and so-called art lofts. Back then, visual art and experimental music seemed to be one and the same energy, and the natural crossover between the two, as was apparent in those days, laid the foundations for the multidisciplinary activities of Sonic Youth. Since the start, the band has been true to their attitude to be unorthodox and to do their own thing, and in their comprehensive output they continued – and still continue – to amalgamate punk rock’s rebellious posture and DIY attitude with experimental music and conceptual art, a production that in its range and complexity up until today remains unrivalled by that of any other band or artists’ collective.
Their album covers, inner sleeves and inlays have been the carriers of a multifaceted output of art by – next to the band members themselves – artists such as James Welling, Richard Kern, Dan Graham, Gerhard Richter, Raymond Pettibon, Mike Kelley, William S. Burroughs, Savage Pencil, Richard Prince, Christopher Wool, and Jeff Wall, to mention a few. Many of Sonic Youth’s album covers are true collages in which material of a broad range of sources is freely put together, evoking relations between that what hardly had been imagined before to exist side by side in a single glance. This approach is triggered by the band’s curiosity about all sorts of subjects, such as beat poetry, avant-garde art and music, late 1970s punk rock, no wave, early 1980s hardcore, experimental noise, stardom, politics... Thurston Moore once defined these eclectic interests as follows: “There’s a fascination with those things, for sure, but hopefully none of those things are central to what we’re doing. What we’re doing is always inventing itself. I have no terminology for it.”
The exhibition SONIC YOUTH etc. : SENSATIONAL FIX follows a similar collage technique as the band applies for their album covers. Through this multilayered collage we are able to uncover an alternative history of contemporary culture, while the goal of this exhibition is not so much to give a complete overview of the history of the band and their collaborations, but rather to pinpoint several directions taken by the band, while taking into account possible future collaborations, as the essence of Sonic Youth is that they constantly redefine their mission. Sonic Death inevitably followed their early credo Sonic Life, but what remains bouncing back and forth in this cycle is eternal renewal. And that’s Sonic Youth. Upcoming venues of the exhibition:
Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Germany, (31 January – 10 May 2009); Malmö Konsthall, Sweden, (29 May – 20 September 2009), Centro Huarte de Arte Contemporáneo, Navarra/Nafarroa, (October 2009 – January 2010).
Publication: A vastly illustrated, 720 page English publication will be released in November 2008 by LiFE and Museion, in collaboration with Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, Cologne. Next to a selection of writings by the band members and reprinted articles by other authors, it contains new contributions by among others John Miller, Jutta Koether & Alan Licht, Carlos van Hijfte, Mike Watt, and Roland Groenenboom. Extensive new interviews with each band member, conducted by Paul Sztulman & Christophe Wavelet, highlight the band’s history in the context of the New York art and music scenes of the late 1970s and early 1980s and their many ties with visual artists, poets, musicians, filmmakers... over the last 27 years. The band’s history is documented in images of album covers, band portraits and live photos, among which many unpublished to date. The exhibition is documented through a selection of works and a listing of the full content of the exhibition. The book furthermore contains two 7” vinyl records with unpublished sound contributions by each member individually.
The publication will soon also be available in French, German and Italian. Check www.museion.it, www.lelife.org or www.sonicyouth.com for availability, prices and order details in the next weeks.