Though it may come as a surprise to many iPod fans, vinyl albums are still culturally relevant—even online merchants like Amazon.com host vinyl stores. Yet for every turntable still spinning, there are piles of abandoned 8-track players choking landfills. “Sometimes Always,” an exhibition of 10 artists at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (co-curated by Robert Zingone of the AGNS and John Mathews of the Centre for Art Tapes), is a clever, playful examination of our preoccupation with audio technologies and our insatiable lust for the latest electronic devices.
A faintly musty pawnshop odour emanates from Eleanor King’s room of sculptures, Obso-less-sense. In this crazed, post-apocalyptic bunker, stacks of VCRs, tuners, televisions and monitors beg for human intervention; a child-sized record player spins unattended while CD-player trays hungrily lie open. King’s work frequently deals with the environmental consequences of mundane decisions; here, she includes an older installation, Cuppa Cups Collection, which consists of discarded Tim Hortons cups. Here, they snake up a wall and over the ceiling, almost touching a stack of VHS movie boxes.
Like King, Halifax’s Artifact Institute (Tim Dallett and Adam Kelly) recognizes that artists can be consuming gearheads as much as computer nerds. For their performative installation, Artifact Institute is mining new value from old machines. During the exhibition, the gallery is housing Dallett and Kelly’s relocated lab and warehouse, where they’ve methodically catalogued and, ideally, repurposed outdated technology discarded by various Halifax cultural institutions. Essentially, they’ve developed a working museum of electronic components. If only that clunky old CBC video camera could talk.
Other artists focus more on the possibility and performative nature of content than on its delivery, such as German Dadaist and electronic musician Felix Kubin’s absurdly delightful lo-fi, low-budget videos and record-playing zoetrope. Craig Leonard knows that the DJ is the most powerful person at the party: with his addictive Adventures on the Wheels of Steel, Leonard encourages visitors to control sound with hand-built turntables. A series of bicycle wheels, patterned with duct tape, sit on a wall like a record collection. Pick one, pop it on the plywood box and “play,” varying unmarked knobs that control pitch, tone and volume.
New York’s Clive Murphy searches for abandoned audio cassettes—which oddly still linger on urban fences and bushes—and patiently extracts portions of the audio. This he digitally transfers and re-records onto fresh tape. The new tape (here, a bouncing techno track) is stretched and played out over the wall through a landscape-like audio-kinetic drawing. Murphy recalls a nostalgic history of DIY mix tapes (more recently finding form in mash-ups) where anyone could take pre-recorded music, customize and share it with the world—or perhaps just a single special someone.
The inclusion of analog enthusiast Russ Forster’s zine 8-Track Mind and Factotum’s newspaper The Vacuum suggests that the “Sometimes Always” curators’ next project could well explore the looming obsolescence of print. (1723 Hollis St, Halifax NS)