Oliver Beer, New Performance and Sculpture, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac London
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Performances of Composition for London will take place each day Tues-Sat 1pm-3.45pm until 2nd July 2017
Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac is delighted to present Oliver Beer, New Performance and Sculpture,
as part of its inaugural programme for the new London gallery at Ely House. During the
renovations of this historic mansion over the past six months, Oliver Beer has been in residence,
developing different manipulations of sound and architectural harmonics within the space.
Oliver Beer (b.1985) trained in musical composition in London before studying Fine Art at the
Ruskin, Oxford University and Theory of Cinema at the Sorbonne, Paris. His musical background
is reflected in a distinct sensitivity to sound and in an interest in the overlap between sound,
space and architecture, which he expresses through performance, film and sculpture.
For his ongoing Resonance Project (2007-) Beer has developed a vocal technique through which
he stimulates the empty spaces in any building to resound according to their resonant
frequencies, creating an extraordinary force of vibration and revealing the ‘voice’ of the building.
Beer employs this technique with classically trained singers to transform buildings – from the
staircases of MoMA PS1 to an Ottoman hammam – into musical instruments, much in the same
way that a wine glass can be made to sing with the tip of a finger. Beer then composes polyphonic
music for these newly audible ‘architectural instruments’, which he weaves into immersive live
Throughout the three months of the exhibition, visitors will be able to experience the culmination
of Beer’s site-specific experiments with his new Resonance Project performance, ‘Composition
for London’, in which classically-trained singers are placed strategically around the grand
staircase and instructed to sing specific notes at precise pitches. Working without the aid of
speakers or electronic amplification the singers will stimulate the space’s natural frequencies and
tease out its intrinsic notes, unchanged since the building’s completion in 1776.
In the large gallery space, ‘Devils’, a major new acoustic installation work based on Beer’s recent
research at the Watermill Centre, NY, uses a feedback loop technique developed by the artist to
reveal the inherent musical notes of various ancient and modern vessels, both sacred and
commonplace. The empty space within each vessel has its own unchanging musical note at which
it resonates. Beer has chosen these objects because their resonant frequencies harmonise with
each other in augmented fourths. This musical interval, dubbed Diabolus in Musica in the middle
ages, is a dissonant combination of notes which was believed by the Catholic Church to be the
musical incarnation of the devil; their use by composers was said to be a crime worthy of
In the midst of these sound works sits an up-turned grand piano, a memento from Beer’s work
Making and Breaking Tristan – which he also recently performed at Centre Pompidou. To create
the performance, Beer cuts away the strings of a grand piano, note by note in a specific order, to
first build and then gradually eliminate Wagner’s notorious ‘Tristan Chord’ – the famously
unstable sound that embodies the origins of modernism in music. Once cut, the strings are
collected, tied up in felt from the piano and hung like a wreath on the gallery wall.
Nearby, Beer has infiltrated the architecture of Ely house by transforming a window pane into a
lead-crystal ear trumpet that amplifies and filters the sounds from the outside world.
On the walls throughout the space hang Beer’s Two-Dimensional Sculptures. To make these
works Beer slices through physical objects such as musical instruments, cameras, shotguns and
coloured pencils, often imbued with personal history, with surgical precision. He then immerses
them in white gessoed plaques with only the cut surface of the object visible. The objects thus
lose all their volume and become two-dimensional images of themselves, granting them a new
meaning and dimension as if frozen in time and space. Creating two-dimensional images from
three-dimensional forms, the works blur the boundaries between painting, drawing and
sculpture. Beer says: 'Sound penetrates matter indiscriminately, and permeates the structures of
our bodies and the objects that surround us. These sculptures are a way of hearing with our eyes
– or seeing with our ears – an attempt to recompose volumes on a single pictorial plane.'
Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac London will simultaneously host three further shows spanning across
the ground and first floors of the gallery. These exhibitions include: a presentation of early
pictures and video sculpture by Gilbert & George; a selection of American Minimal Art from the
Marzona Collection; and drawings and sculpture from the 1950s and 1960s by Joseph Beuys.