Sight for sound, ear for image. Perspectives on a cooperative art-project.

Le bruissement is the rushing sound of something that functions well”. This reflection is

usually accredited to the French literary critic and cultural theorist Roland Barthes. He was

referring to speech, and about the difference between stuttering (“stuttering makes a message

spoilt twice”) and about speaking in “multiple harmonies”. The “silent roar” is the sound of

companionship, a noise that comes from something which is noiseless, because it is in perfect

harmony – making noise impossible, all according to Barthes.

What about art? Can art make noise?  Of course it can. Hardly any art biennial from Venice to

Istanbul or Berlin to Havana is without melodious elements of noise or silence. Sound art is so

prevalent that it is hard to distinguish between sound and image or art and music.

Hilde Hauan  Johnsen and Maia  Urstad

chose their careers in the early 90s. During this

time fine art renounced much of its aesthetic identity, replacing its silent “image” with a

rougher, more technically oriented and intellectual approach. Art went academic; like

architecture, research and critical analysis, whilst shielding its boundless independence. These

were the days of new media; costly, demanding and “impure” art forms like video, sound art

and large multi media installations nourished from cross-sectorial financial and political

changes to art educations and universities across the Western hemisphere.  For the first time

we saw art emerging from contemporary artists’ own organisational structures instead of

traditional expectations based on the artist’s need to make art. A certain tenacious art myth

was about to die. Artists turned to relational aesthetics, towards a more authentic contact with

the public.

Cooperative projects like the one presented at Lydgalleriet in Bergen in 2009 can be

understood from this perspective. The work became a combination of the best of all worlds.

Fine art met research with sound and light as source and focus.

In a famous article,”Science as vocation” (1919) the German sociologist and historian Max

Weber commented: ”The scientific experiment stopped serving truth or creativity when art

and science separated” Contrary to ruling opinion Weber claimed that science has borrowed

its experimentation from art.


It is tempting to go all the way and say that the artist duo Hauan Johnsen and Urstad have

reclaimed the experiment from science and reinstated it to its former glory – as investigation

of reality in order to uncover its creative core.

The installa tion



consisted of fibre optic cables, stretched diagonally across

a dark room. Sound sequences caused the cables to pulsate. Two alternating effects, artificial

synthetic and pure light dominated. One within the other. It created an unusual experience, far

beyond the visual. This light came from something that worked, intensely colourful combined

with sound of slapping – or maybe it was the other way around? It created a physical

response. The images were in the mind.

At that moment I was struck by the thought that even without the capacity to understand the

artists’ complex technological choices I was captured by the situation. The work was truly

image-making. It set me on the trail of new ideas. First and foremost, the concept of enjoying

an art work and learning something from being confronted.  But additionally also the concept

of sensing time and space by listening to sounds from beyond my visual horizon. Some

sounds were familiar (the sound of water in the pipes, or voices from upstairs), others were

less obvious and alien, resonance from another territory on a swaying flow of light. It was as

if the dynamic of the space suddenly became observable. It was confirmation of sound’s

ability to be omnipresent; like ripples in water, it resonates, moves and creates structures.  In

other words; sound is performative.

Listening in a certain manner and on a certain level, surrounded by staged art, is to decode

something obscure by making an effort to discover what lies beneath together with others

sharing the same space. In his”Critique of Pure Reason” (1790) Kant writes that beauty

always comes from a “vague” object. If an object flickers it becomes an “ideal object”, it

flickers between spaces without a determined purpose. It avoids comprehension and involves


Experiencing art is never an autonomous experience; it is never isolated or unique. It is

always relational to a context that interferes and affects our understanding of the



few weeks before I saw this installation at Lydgalleriet I had seen the Brazilian artist Lygia

Papes’ (1927 – 2004) restaged principal work ”Ttéias 1” at the Venice Biennale. The

installation filled one of the halls of the old wharf Arsenale. Bundles of copper wire stretched


in all directions from the ceiling to the concrete floor seamlessly attached to solid white tiles.

The hall was darkened, but lights moved along the wires giving the space a dissolved almost

immaterial ambience. The white tiles became paper and the light became writing.

All through her career Lygia Pape insisted on public participation. She experimented with a

broad spectrum of expressions form printmaking to film, dance, design, performance and

installations. But everything she did referred to art’s social dimension and expanding beyond

modernism’s formality to create a bond with reality. For me Pape’s work and the installation

at Lydgalleriet are two of a kind. As a spherical piece of precious metal suspended in the

sunlight.  Gravity exists, as a scientific fact, but art can revoke it.

Roland Barthes refers to noise from the fringe, an impossible but also “flickering” noise. He

refers to the noise which isn’t noise because it is perfect. The philosopher claimed that one

could hear the dissolution of the roar. The opposite of the silent roar or the rushing sound

would be the chopping of an engine. A clear sign that something was about to stop. According

to Barthes “machinery that hums is contended machinery”.  I feel convinced that the

philosopher and scientist, linguist and poet would refer to Hilde Hauan Johnsen and Maia

Urstad’s installation at Lydgalleriet in Bergen during the autumn of 2009 as “contented”


Øystein Hauge