stones and spots

Two cultural outings in this last week. On Monday, to Kings Place for an evening of challenging music performed by Ilan Volkov and friends. I know Volkov as a conductor and have seen him in this role at a couple of Proms concerts. Monday’s event was a very different affair, much more initmate and informal. The first half was an improvisation by the trio MINES, for drums and two violins, with Volkov on one of the violins. I’m not an improv aficionado (there seemed to be a fair few in the audience) but I liked having my ears opened to new and strange sounds, as well as witnessing the dynamics between the three musicians and the inventiveness of their playing. After the interval, John Tilbury and Maya Dunietz performed two Morton Feldman pieces for two pianos; exquisitely restrained, quiet and contemplative, as much about the spaces between as the splashes and ripples of notes. The evening ended with Stones, a Christian Wolff composition, for which the score consists of a set of instructions for the performers to “make sounds with stones, draw sounds out of stones, using a number of sizes and kinds (and colours)” and so on. This was a real ‘surround sound’ experience, with players dotted around the auditorium and on stage, creating an exhilarating mix of scraping, clattering, tapping and clicking. An aural tonic for an overloud, overloaded world.

On Friday, we went to the Yayoi Kusama retrospective at Tate Modern. The exhibition is a taster, really, from sixty years of prolific and varied output by the Japanese artist. There is much more to her work than the famed polka dots. Her early drawings are intricate and obsessive, with motifs of eggs, eyes and other organic forms that resurface throughout her oeuvre. Her soft fabric sculptures are both vulnerable and repellant, obscenely abundant. There are hallucinatory paintings in vibrant colours, and a room of cool creamy-white canvasses with dotted or textured surfaces. Her ‘Self-Obliteration’ project rubs uneasily against the mass of meticulous documentation, fascinating though much of that is. Several rooms in the exhibition are given over to Kusama’s immersive installations, and stepping into the darkened domestic interior of I’m Here, but Nothing, with hundreds of fluorescent coloured spots glowing under the ultraviolet light, you do get a sense of entering a different world, somehow joyous and troubling at the same time.

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