Vogue: “One of the most beautiful exhibitions to see in Bordeaux”
Russell Perkins’ installation (photos by Arthur Péquin, courtesy of the artist) translates the noise of the electricity market into voice. Using live data from the European Energy Exchange, the artist renders the volatility and uncertainty of the markets as a sonic environment. By “making us hear the value of electricity”, as Barbe à Papa exhibition curator Cédric Fauq writes, “the piece gives a literal voice to finance capitalism.”
Russell Perkins is an American artist working across media and often collaboratively. Recent projects consider how risk and precarity register on individual bodies, and were made together with forensic researchers, professional poker players, a biochemical reagent manufacturer, and singers specializing intended vocal techniques. He now lives and works in London.
The drop ceiling, Deltaceir Line, has been modified using electromagnets so that it resonates with sound, like an enormous speaker or musical instrument. The audio piece is generated live and is therefore never the same.
Beyond the form, material composition, and sound, what is striking is the construction of a score crafted to the smallest detail that creates, in any given space and time, a journey that is never the same. The experience of this path appears in the form of defined images and indefinite sounds with which the artist, breaking in with the sound of his voice – and the energy that springs from it – brings to life an experience displaced from the object, insistently elsewhere from its identical and recognizable elements.
Russell Perkins has recently won the 2022 Lumen Prize, an international award which celebrates art created with technology. His piece, The Future Tense, is a multi-channel sound installation developed in collaboration with researchers at SONY CSL Paris, and shown at Les Réserves du Frac Île-de-France in summer of 2021.
INTERVIEW WITH RUSSELL PERKINS BY ANNA F.
Dear Russell, thank you for your availability, courtesy, and the pleasure of this relationship leading up to the opening evening on November 3 in Bordeaux, when everyone finally saw (and heard) your installation.
“Thank you Anna, it has been a huge pleasure to get to know you and your team at CEIR through the process of working on this piece”.
As a contemporary artist, you seek to reimagine the relationship between the visitor and artwork. How should the dialogue between a work of art and the public be?
“As much as I might try to anticipate it, I also try to remember that this dialogue between an artwork and the public is largely outside of the artist’s control. For example, I started developing Conduit before the beginning of the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis that has followed. Because the piece uses the European energy markets as a kind of musical score, these shifting economic and political dynamics have drastically shifted the dynamics within the piece. Naturally this context is likely to inform a viewer’s experience, and I have to embrace that”.
Why did you choose a false ceiling for your installation and specifically a linear one like Deltaceir Line? “I wanted to overlay a grid onto the gallery space and over the viewer’s head. I was thinking about the artist Agnes Martin’s grids, and the way that slight variations in the intensity of her hand-drawn lines give her paintings a vibrating quality. In Conduit, vibration comes from the sounds of my voice flowing through the aluminium ceiling.
As suggestive as the ‘false ceiling’ is as a metaphor, I think this kind of ceiling reads more like a filter—a surface that regulates the flow of energy, information, or bodies through it. The specific ceiling design we developed creates a very fine and sharp grid that looks almost like a line drawing when viewed from below”.
Sound always has a primary role in your works: why this strong attraction?
“I started working with sound largely by chance. I was making a body of work about a commercial casino in Queens, New York, near where I lived at the time. When I began visiting the casino for research, I think I anticipated making a project about the lights, colours and graphics of the space—but I was immediately taken aback by its distinctive sound. The overlapping sounds of all the slot machines playing at once is almost overwhelming when you first walk into the casino, but becomes strangely pleasing the more you’re immersed in it. I ended up making a piece where I recreated this auditory environment with a group of singers, and I’ve been working with sound since.
I’m most interested in sound as a sculptural material—learning how it acts on the body and using it to shape space. I also love how the senses bleed into one another, how a sound might suggest the physical form of the object that could produce it, or how different sounds compare in weight and texture.
The suspended ceiling is often used to absorb sound, but in your case it seems to be the opposite. What role does the drop ceiling play with sound?
“Working with the CEIR ceiling allowed me to achieve a specific sonic effect that I’d been imagining for a long time. Each ceiling panel has an electromagnet attached to it, which causes it to function like an independent speaker. This let me distribute sound across the space in a very precise way: sometimes every panel plays the same frequency, sometimes many different frequencies. Sounds can move across the space and relate dynamically to the viewer’s body. Often in Conduit there is very little change in the frequencies you might hear over the course of several minutes—all that changes is their physical relation to you as they and you both move”.
The shape, the space, the sound, the drop ceiling: do you think your creation is suitable / reproducible also for an architectural use?
“Absolutely, and it would become a new work each time it’s installed. The building that houses CAPC was originally a colonial-era sugar warehouse, and the piece aims to respond to this specific architectural context. But the process of installing the ceiling made me very curious to find out what the piece might be like in other spaces. I would love to try it in a more modern or a more intimate space, or somewhere that visitors are inclined to move through in a different way”.
We look forward to seeing you again, here and anywhere. Thank you Russell.
“Thank you Anna—I can’t wait until next time!”.