Hitting all the right notes | An encounter with Yann Novak
Posted In: Hitting all the right notes | An encounter with Yann Novak, Samuel Landry, Yann Novak
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Putting together an audio-visual exhibit, an audio screening room and a live event is an undertaking that requires time, dedication and attention to details. The logistics during the final weeks preceding said event are bound to be nervewracking and demanding for all involved. Yet, on the very day of, when I had the grace to be introduced to Yann Novak, I was met with availability and a willingness to share in thoughts beyond common measure. Sifting and meandering through subjects ranging from personal to professional, artistic or even sociological, the conversation took on rather organically as we strolled through the different portions of the exhibit. Immediately thereafter I was left with an impression of gentleness and especially thoughtfulness of a rare quality.
From these moments, here is what remains, supplied with a bit of electronic back and forth for accuracy.
Re : the origin of the project
- My understanding is that all curators of the Sublimation exhibit met during an event at Soundfjord (London, UK) a few years ago and through shared discussions emerged a consensus, can you tell us more about the nature of those discussions?
YN: That is correct. I was in London working on my solo exhibition at SoundFjord with Helen and we had also planned a performance during my stay. France happened to be coming to Europe shortly after so we convinced her to come early and perform as well.
France had visited Los Angeles earlier that year, and we had performed together at an event called ‘Presence’ at the Torrance Art Museum that was curated by VOLUME. The event lasted 5 hours over an afternoon and had multiple performers including sound performances, durational performances and installations. The intention was not about collaboration, but rather to see how different artists and their work relate in the same space, always overlapping.
I think this event really changed how France and I thought about presenting work.
Once the two of us got to London, this experience seemed to feed into a lot of things Helen had been thinking about, and the dialog evolved from there. What emerged from our discussions was a shared interest in an idea of the immersive. Immersive for us meant situations that push the audience outside of an observer/observed relationship with the work and, instead, focused on the experience itself.
That simple, yet profound notion lead us to consider the idea of the sublime, since the situation of being immersed also feels outside the scope of language.
- How do we go from the idea to its realization? What drove your choice for the location of the event / venue?
YN: The opportunity to propose a show at OBORO was the catalyst for the project. France had worked with OBORO in the past, and I had done a tour of OBORO a year prior on another visit to Montreal. Neither of us could adequately convey to Helen how great an institution OBORO is. The due date for proposals was just a few months following our convergence in London, and we used our enthusiasm as fuel to put the show together.
Following the acceptance of our proposal, we spent about a year refining our ideas, prior to the show’s opening. We set out to refine the project in respect to mold it perfectly to the spaces made available to us in order to achieve our vision.
Re : artistic direction | observing the theme
- The works selected were already created and not commissioned, what key aspects drove your choices?
This is almost always the case in group exhibitions because documentation of the show is needed for the application and the turnaround from application to realization is usually at least a year. Logistics aside, when one is working with such a broad theme as ‘immersion’, we thought it best to request existing works from some artists and seek out specific works from other. We proceeded in this manner in order to ensure that the pieces would fit into the theme and would be in the correct dialog with one another.
We also all wanted to be involved in curating each aspect of the show (exhibit, sound screening and concert). So by working with pre-existing works we were able to draw from each of our individual knowledge of different artists. For instance there were a few artists in the sound screening that I was not familiar with at the time, which, through the curation process, I was exposed to.
The works we selected were very diverse. Such a broad theme required us to look at it as more of a survey of works that related to the theme in their own singular way rather than choosing works whose collective thesis created a matter of face definition of “immersive.” This was also the driving motivation for presenting the show in three parts, so that artists working in a variety of forms and methods could be represented.
Re : community
- Were there challenges in bringing this roster together or gathering proper funding, etc.?
YN: The exhibition and sound screening fell together quite easily because we were working with finished works. So, for the most part, the files were already in our possession.
The concert was another story because we would have to get the artists to Canada. Our original intent was to further diversify with the concert and showcase as many artists as possible. It quickly became apparent to us that funding would be limited, and we would have to change course.
At around the time we had this realization we found out that both Robert Crouch and Mimosa|Moize were planning to come for the show. This was one of those moments when an obstacle presents a better opportunity. Not only did we have a performer from each of our home cities this way, but having these two artists’ works represented in two contexts (exhibition and performance), we felt it strengthened the continuity of the show and provided a necessary connection between the two parts.
Re: expectations vis-à-vis performance, presenting the work
- How was the presentation of these events intended to relate with the audience?
The installation for each part of the show was carefully crafted and very deliberate. We wanted to present all the works in the best possible way of course, but more importantly we wanted to make it as easy as possible for the immersive qualities of the works to be experienced by the audience.
In the exhibit portion we wanted there to be moments of discovery for the audience. To achieve that we positioned the projection in a portion of the gallery that was not visible from the entrance. By doing so, two revealing moments were created. One, going through the curtains to see an empty room illuminated by a not yet visible projection and filled with sound, and another when the audience fully enters the viewing area and the projection is revealed as well.
Then in the audio screening, we opted for a fully backed out room with black acoustic curtains on the walls. Our intention was to take away visual stimuli as much as possible and direct the audience to focus on the act of listening. The only lights in the space were three dim spots, one on each speaker and one on the seating. This was done to suggest that the experience was not complete without the audience there to hear the work.
Finally with the concert, we wanted to acknowledge the live performances by having the performers in the same room as the audience, by focusing attention on experiencing the sound rather than watching the performers. To achieve this, we split the seating into quadrants, each facing one of the four walls of the space, the room surrounded with black acoustic curtains, so that only one quadrant could see the performers. We also utilized dim spotlights, this time in the 4 corners of the room, which corresponded to the seating and also took attention away from the performers because there were not deliberately lit.
In all three aspects (exhibit, sound screening and concert), we aimed to create situations where the audience could have a more personal relationship to the work. In the exhibit, each audience member discovers the pieces for themselves, in their own way. In the audio screening, the experience is incomplete without the audience. Finally, the concert was presented in quadrophonic, so each quadrant had a different relation to the four speakers and thus had their own personal relationship to each performance.
Re: Sharing curatorial duties between the three (France Jobin, Helen Frosi & Yann Novak)
- How was the work divided?
YN: The curation of the show was done very democratically, we all proposed works for possible inclusion in the show and we all had to approve them to be included.
Once the proposal was accepted, we split off to work on individual portions of the show. Helen worked with the sound screening artists, France took care of the concert and was a go between with the gallery due to her proximity and being bilingual, and I took care of the exhibit portion. In doing so, we were able to really focus on each individual section and artists and play to out our strengths.
This really worked well for us. We are quite pleased with the show of course, but more importantly the artists are happy with the show and we feel their work was shown in the best possible way. We really wanted to take to heart the role of curators, which in its very basic sense means to ‘take care of’. We wanted to take care of the artists and take care of their amazing and beautiful work.
Well then, my usual parting words seem to be most appropriate here: Take care and pay attention.
- Interview: by Samuel Landry for Fluid Radio / Photos: Josée Brouillard, courtesy of Oboro..
“Sublimation: an exercise in the immersive” is an ongoing audiovisual exhibit until April 7th, entry is free of charge, open Tuesday to Saturday from noon to 5PM.