Tumble rooms and rain makers

Last week, the School of Art Lecture Series brought to campus Martin Kersels, an artist working in performance, photography, audio, and sculpture. Kersels does not claim competency in any one medium; rather, he embraces the freedom and the idea of being an artist. “The world will respond [to my work] however they want,” Kersels said. “With a slap on the back, or derision.” While many of Kersels’s works are individually exhibited pieces or performances, he spent his lecture elaborating on some of his larger works and installations.

Objects of the Dealer (1995) is a gallery installation that incorporates sound, performance, and sculpture into the space. Kersels pursued the idea of soundtrack throughout everyday life; he composed 14 different scores, each matching an object in his art dealer’s office. Kersels relocated his art dealer’s office into the gallery, and had his dealer go about his daily routine at his desk. Every object he used caused a different soundtrack to play. For example, a telephone was linked to a speaker system, and the “telephone score” played whenever it was in use. Here, the performance created an ever-changing sonic chaos in the gallery space, and Kersels was able to emphasize how people remember moments using music and sound.

Loud House, a metal shed with a TV monitor above its structure, deals primarily with sound. With the goal of creating what he called “a singular object of undeniable presence,” Kersels videotaped himself clog dancing, his rhythm moving from soft to wild. The TV monitor shows the video of Kersels dancing, while eight speakers in the shed pounded out sound. The shed also held glass bottles with nails in them, which only added to the noise. Through all of this, Loud House accomplished its goal of creating an “undeniable presence.”

Kersels’s Pink Constellation (2000–2001) also combines video and installation. The piece includes a 20-minute video shot in a “tumble room” — a fanciful, rotating space where two actors move up the walls and on the ceiling. In the gallery space, one room showed the video, while the other room displayed a real-life tumble room in constant rotation, with the set pieces being violently tossed and broken as if in a giant rock grinder. The juxtaposition in Kersels’s piece shows that fantasy is light and airy, while reality is brutish. With all the difficulties he faced in the creation and execution of Pink Constellation, Kersels decided that he no longer wanted to create such large projects.

Orchestra for Idiots (2005), Kersels’s recent installation, is by far one of his most interesting works. Fascinated by noise, Kersels created a series of 18 mechanisms based on books from the ’40s and ’50s on how to make radio sound effects. For example, to make the sound of rain, he used a cylinder with beans and rice in it. Kersels added orchestra-style portraits of people holding his invented instruments, thus making them look more legitimate. Finally, he composed a score that integrated each mechanism, which he conducted with a ping-pong paddle and horsewhip. The installation was relatively whimsical, with sound as its crucial element, using cruder tonalities to portray real-life events and actions.

Kersels’s work is both humorous and engaging. Whether interactive or not, the viewer is pulled in by the sonic elements as well as by the association with the sculptural objects. Kersels’s versatility pervades his works, and becomes increasingly important in his ability to create work that connects with the viewer.