Art Basel 2017

Music of Changes: At Basel, Cally Spooner Offers the Sound of Reversal


Over the past five days in Basel, I have probably walked by thousands of artworks. But one has stuck with me this whole time: Cally Spooner’s spare sound piece And As The Medieval Cloisters Connect Seamlessly With The Corridors of Power… I’m quietly confident (U-Turn), which is presented on a lone standing speaker in a room of the Stiftung Bartels Fondation as part of Art Basel’s Parcours program.

The piece lasts a little over six minutes, the total amount of time that it apparently took U.K. Education Secretary Michael Gove, a Tory, to give a speech in Parliament reversing his plan to restructure the exam system in the country, a proposal that critics had said would have sidelined arts education. (Some may recall that Tracey Emin, who famously supported the Conservative Party, was critical of Gove’s idea, and later boasted, “Michael Gove is scared of me.”)

In the work, Spooner has performers singing in jagged, dissonant tones that recall György Ligeti’s 1965 Requiem, which is famously used in 2001: A Space Odyssey. (With the single-speaker display, Spooner also seems to be channeling the monoliths in the film.) As text accompanying the piece explains, the singers are giving voice to an abstract rendition of a U-turn—arguably the definitive political trope of our time, as one election after another seems to spin around, at the last moment, and head in the opposite direction. Listening to it, everything feels discombobulated, like one is in a room that is slowly flipping over, objects crashing every which way as a result of gravity.

Its U-turn complete, Spooner’s work suddenly cuts to silence. What comes next?

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