Exhibiting Historical Art: Out of the Vault: Stories of People and Things


Nuclear War
In 1982, the nuclear freeze movement was at the height of its influence is noticeably seen in tracks from Revolutions Per Minute. Chris Burden's "Atomic Alphabet" is a very straight forward attempt to capture the fear of nuclear war in auditory form. By using comparisons such as "F for fallout" and "H for holocaust", the listener is confronted with images of desolate landscapes torn apart by war and an apocalyptic futures. Even Burden's off-putting method of shouting through his alphabet adds to the listener's sense of danger and fear.  Conrad Atkinson takes a different approach to the subject of nuclear war in his track, which consists of his own pondering about what he sees as an inevitable nuclear war.  He believes this war will almost certainly be started by the United States, but will quickly destroy all of Europe as a result. He leaves his listener with this final though: "Britain, your giant aircraft carrier, just off mainland Europe, where the first world war and second world war was fought…" - forcing one to think about the far reaching consequences if one country chooses to begin a nuclear war. 

-Conrad Atkinson, The Louis XIV Deterrent
-Chris Burden, The Atomic Alphabet

The Economy
Ronald Reagan entered office with big plans for the economy and for tax cuts.  His goal was to significantly lower taxes, forcing severe budget cuts in the government, but allowing people to spend more money on goods and services and thus boost the economy.  Proposed in February of 1981, the Economic Tax Recovery Act was passed and signed into law that summer.  That fall, however, the economy worsened and by 1982 the United States was experiencing its worse economic recession since the Great Depression.  Though Reagan's tax cuts had not yet had time to be implemented (and would indeed prove to help the economy in just a few years), the American public quickly associated this new Act with the recession that hit just a few months after it was signed into law.  Levine directly addresses these problems in his song, writing that "Inflation, money, and taxes are getting worse all the time" and "The system has failed us and left us."  He thus expresses the grievances that many Reagan supporters felt, as they claimed they had been betrayed by their candidate.

-R. Buckminster Fuller, Critical Path
-Les Levine, Would Not Say No to Some Help

Many of the artists explore issues related to feminism in their audio recording.  Hannah Wilkes, in her song "Stand Up," tells women to "stand up and be your on cliche... there's no one to betray."  In both her lithograph and picture on the artist listing, she is unabashedly nude - further emphasizing her argument for the empowerment of women and her use of lines like "exposing the truth is like nudity."  This is a common theme in many of Wilkes' works.  Margaret Harrison uses audio in a different way to explore issues of women's rights.  She reads the first lines of books written by female artists from a variety of genres and time periods.  By choosing books with opening lines such as "A man must know how to brave opinion, a woman how to submit to it," Harrison discusses the many issues women must face in an effort to gain equality.  Ida Applebroog is yet another example of an artist exploring feminist issues in her work. By staging a recording of standard dinner party conversation, she not only makes the listener ponder the shallowness of such conversation, but also how women are only valued for their bodies (for example, the man commenting "You have lovely breasts") and not for their intellect, hence the women repeatedly asking "is that a fact?" so as to assert her ability to think critically instead of simply nodding along. 

-Ida Applebroog, Really, Is that a Fact?
-Margaret Harrison, First Lines
-Hannah Wilke, Stand Up

As the space program and technology in the United States flourished, they inspired many artists to use this technology to explore new themes or use new methods in their art.  Piotr Kowalski, for example, plays William Burroughs' words backwards and over top of the initial audio through his 'Time Machine.'  Thomas Shannon, however, takes a more critical approach to the burgeoning technology.  Though he uses many different recording technologies which were popular at the time, his song lyrics, such as "a mammoth computer has begun to pump my brain cells with fun" and "the most advanced soon dead, forgotten," bring into question the repercussions of this technological advancement.

-Piotr Kowalski & William Burroughs, You Only Call the Old Doctor Once
-Douglas Davis, How To Make Love a Sound
-Todd Siler, Think Twice
-Thomas Shannon, Smashing Beauty

Memories are, by definition, intangible but this doesn't stop people from trying to give them a concrete form.  These artists are no exception, as they attempt to record memories in an audio format.  The company SITE (Sculpture in the Environment), for example, records people's opinions of one of their new buildings.  Many of the people recorded would likely have forgotten about the building and their opinions of it after a time, but by recording their comments they become memorialized both as a memory and as art.  Eleanor Antin creates a strange twist on the capture of memory by recording herself pretending to be the character of Eleanora Antinova, an African American ballerina who performed with the Ballets Russe.  Antin created this persona herself and had used it in works prior to this exhibit.  Rather than capturing her own memories, Antin creates memories that fit this fictitious character and preserves them on this record.

-SITE, Comments on SITE
-Jospeh Beuys, Excerpt from Cooper Union Dialogue
-Eleanor Antin, Antinova Remembers
-Helen Mayer Harrison/Newton Harrison, Extract from the Second Lagoon: A Memoriam to John Isaacs

Many of the artists explore the art of audio recording by experimenting with phonetics and how sound can be manipulated in various ways.  "Internal Sound" by Terry Fox, for example, is a recording of 300 foot piano strings being plucked in different ways.  David Smyth and Vincenzo Agnetti also explores unconventional instruments in their tracks, while Jud Fine explores the phonetics of overlapping two similar words until they almost blend into one.

-Terry Fox, Internal Sound
-David Symth, Typewriter in D
-Jud Fine, Polynesian/Polyhedron
-Edwin Schlossberg, Vibrations/Metaphors
-Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, Russian Language Lesson
-Vincenzo Agnetti, Pieces of Sound

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