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Resonance, a text written by Jonathan Watkins  on the occasion of Oliver Beer's solo show at Ikon Gallery in 2011

“We stand on the staircase of a multi-storey car park in Birmingham. It is an unloved modernist building, the kind that is destined for demolition in some overarching city plan of the future. It was ushered in without nostalgia, and will go out the same way. There are signs requesting visitors to Pay and Display and beware of thieves operating in the area but otherwise, frankly, this car park doesn’t say much. It is a less-is-more type, functionalist, a very poor distant relation of some architectural masterpieces.

Here Oliver Beer is making a site visit for the Resonance Project, part of his ongoing series since 2007. The vertical, zigzag void of the stairwell, with its concrete and glass, has the reflective acoustic quality that he is looking for. He sings in the space, sliding up and down from lower to higher registers, before tuning in to a natural frequency, then holding that note. This is the moment when the building sings back in a sustained feedback that vibrates in us profoundly. It is sublime. The potential sonic energy of the car park thus reveals itself, and dissipates only when the artist either stops singing or shifts his pitch.

The phenomenon of natural frequency, and the resonance it engenders, is made more compelling by the choral music that Beer weaves around it. The stairwell soon will be occupied by a group of singers who will play it like a massive sound box, a wind instrument that responds magically to a sympathetic style.

A car park. A church. The Pompidou Centre. A sewer. Beer’s Resonance Project is wonderfully democratic in its various locations, reminding us that epiphanies can happen anywhere. The human voice, without electronic amplification, with no accompaniment other than its own recycled echoes, occurs to us as a beautiful revelation. The modesty of this work belies its far-reaching implications and the sheer pleasure it gives.”

Jonathan Watkins
Curator and Director of Ikon Gallery

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