Thursday, 6 August 2015

Listening to paintings to look closer

Visiting the National Gallery in London nowadays is often a noisy, busy experience.  Not the quiet , reflective environment some galleries have.  One of their current exhibitions, Soundscapes, provides another, alternative way of experiencing art.  Six paintings have been selected by six artists (or artist teams), who then created an audible accompaniment to play alongside the chosen artwork.

Each "soundscape" had been created differently.  Chris Watson, wildlife sound recordist, created a "collage" of natural sound to go with his chosen work (Lake Keitiele (1905) by Akseli Gallen-Kallela), Jamie XX created some electronic music that worked brilliantly with Coastal Scene (abt 1892) by Theo Van Rysselberghe - both of them dotty and vibrating with colour or sound. St Jerome in his Study (about 1475) by Antonello da Messina was enhanced not just by the background noise you might have expected to hear, but by a 3D version of the painting the artists had created alongside their soundscape (Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller).

But what has this to do with textiles?

Well it was only while "listening" and looking at The Ambassadors (1533) by Hans Holbein the Younger (sound work by Susan Philipsz), that I realised how much closer you look when you just look at one image in a darkened room while you have to listen so intently.  Standing fairly closely to the figure on the left (Jean de Denteville), I was reminded how skilled Holbein is at painting textiles - the black velvet jacket and the pink silk shirt; the white linen of the undershirt; the black silk robe with fur trim; the carpet that covers the table and the green fabric that the two figures stand in front of.  Like the objects on the table between the two figures, here was another collection, this time of fabric technology.

Coming out of the exhibition, I came across a very different display that was also about close looking.  This time the galleries annual Take One Picture schools project.  For twenty years the gallery has been encouraging primary school children to look at a specific painting from their gallery - the exhibition which is currently running over the summer period displays some of their responses.  The image chosen this year was Saint Michael Triumphs Over the Devil (1468) by Bartolome Bermejo.  The children had looked at patterns, colour, and ideas about heroes.  Not all my images (taken without flash) were sharp enough to publish, but here is a small selection.  The display is on in the gallery (free) until 20 September 2015.

Soundscapes continues until 6 September 2015.

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