Taking gallery walls as one of her subjects, Jo Coupe has contributed to In and Out of Sight by blending in. Her work is, in some ways, indistinguishable from its surroundings, just visible (or audible) enough to provoke some uncertainty about where the gallery ends and the artwork begins. In common with Elizabeth Murton’s installation, Between Materials and Mechanisms, Coupe’s work prompts visitors to reflect not just on the artwork but also on the gallery space.
Coupe’s past works have engaged with the “non-visible”, the “unseen”, and the “overlooked”. In Rarified (2008), an orchid cast in 18 carat gold goes almost un-noticed among larger potted plants in Tatton Park’s orchid house, unnatural and yet seemingly native to their surroundings. In Infester (2009) the communal spaces of a gallery are peppered with bronze casts of mushrooms, emerging from cracks in the plaster as if they are “just the visible part of a [much larger, hidden,] connected organism” that has infested the walls of the building. In these pieces the surrounding space becomes part of the artwork, connecting to neighbouring objects and structures, so integrated that the boundary between art and its site is uncertain.
Tadeusz Kantor writes that spaces such as galleries “are not passive receptacle[s] in which objects and forms are posited”. “Gallery walls can never be completely objective or disinterested”, but rather, this apparently “neutral” area is in fact “active”, contributing to the impression of the artefacts that it contains. “Space itself is an object” (Rogers, 2013, pp. 92; 103), or more accurately, “an aggregate of physical matter” that yields visual and aural experiences (Fluck, 2005, p. 25). Any artwork that exists within a space contributes one part to this whole sensory experience.
With sound in particular, it is difficult to identify where the artwork ends and the gallery begins. Sound has no frame. It reaches out into the gallery space and blends with the other sounds that are generated around it. Moreover, the aural architecture changes from moment to moment, as people enter and leave, and doors open and close, adding and removing new layers to the soundscape. “Sound embraces and transcends the spaces in which it occurs… The acoustic source and its surroundings unite into a unique auditory experience” (Adivar et. al. 2009).
Coupe’s current sound installation, 50hz60hz, is at times clearly audible, and at other times it blends into the background, becoming indistinguishable from the background noise of the gallery – the workshop fans that line the walls, the fridge in the neighbouring gallery cafe, and the hum of conversation from visitors and students. Reverberating off the walls, Coupe’s hum sounds as though it might originate from the very fabric of the building, and even though the speakers are visible, they seem dislocated from the sound. It occasionally becomes inaudible enough to provoke uncertainty about the origins of each of the many layered sounds, or indeed, whether the installation is emitting any sound at all. The only visible evidence that the sound is present is the small green light that shines from the bottom of each speaker, reassuring visitors that the work is still active.
Coupe’s other works, Pure Brilliant (I and II), two photographs of white gallery walls filtered through electromagnetic interference, interrupt the whiteness of the surrounding gallery wall. Coupe’s photographs at once stand out and blend into the gallery walls. The space between the print and wall is darkened by two overlapping shadows that seem to create steps leading from one surface to the other. These shadows, cast by two separate light sources, bridge the gap between the real and photographed wall, while at the same time marking the division between the two surfaces.
This phenomenon is made visible as a consequence of two features of the environment: first, that it is lit in a particular way, and second, that it is navigable, allowing viewers to approach the work from a range of viewing angles. The navigability of a gallery space separates it from other contexts in which one might encounter artwork, such as within the flat pages of an art book. This is turn encourages art to be approached as architecture, from a range of directions, each of which may yield a different view. An artwork is not flattened onto the wall, but instead projects outwards, asserting its presence in the gallery space.
Avidar, Pnina, Ganchrow, Raviv, and Kursell, Julia (2009), “Immersed: Sound and Architecture”, OASE, issue 78.
Fluck, Winfried (2005), “Imaginary Space; Or, Space as Aesthetic Object“, in Klaus Benesch and Kerstin Schmidt (eds), Space in America, Amsterdam: Rodopi, pp. 25-40.
Rogers, Holly (2013), Sounding the Gallery: Video and the Rise of Art Music, Oxford University Press.