Preview: Cage Mix – Sound and Sculpture at BALTIC

Exhibition: Cage Mix – Sound and Sculpture, BALTIC, Gateshead, until September 19 2010

If ever a course sounded challenging, it was this one: Experimental Composition at the New School for Social Research; tutor: John Cage.

Cage taught the classes towards the end of the 1950s and his students were by and not musicians, but artists. So few memorable tunes resulted.

Nevertheless it was here that the 60s craze for ‘happenings’ was born and also where the Fluxus movement got going. And 60 years on artists are still drawing inspiration from the avant garde composer’s life and work.

Indeed, the current show at BALTIC features a response from eight contemporary artists to a piece of work developed while Cage was at the New School, Fontana Mix.

This piece was scored on transparent sheets which, when overlapped, would result in random compositions and new pieces of work.

These must have inspired the 165 sheets of paper which make up Paper Moon by Paul Ramirez Jonas. Repeating the phrase “I create as I speak” he builds a map of our lunar satellite which viewers are invited to read aloud or to themselves from a loose sheet presented with a microphone.

Fontana Mix also finds an echo in the composition of loose musical instrument parts arranged on the gallery’s slate floor. But Katja Strunz’s astral-type arrangement reflects that ultimate chance event, the big bang.

Meanwhile local artist Richard Rigg suspends a brass bell in a vacuum sealed bell jar which when rung can be seen and not heard. Surely, an echo of Cage’s famous 4’33” piece.

Clearly, Cage’s impact on art has been massive. Has there ever been an artist who has done as much for music?

Written for Culture24.

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