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|Sound art: discourses of definition in the contemporary artworld
|Bhaugeerutty, Aruna Devi
|Since the turn of the millennium, the term ‘sound art’ has gained increasing prominence while generating persistent discussion and debate. This study explores questions surrounding the definition of sound art through an analysis of these discourses. It also applies a Foucauldian notion of discourse to the concept of genre in order to promote a non-essentialist definition of sound art that is pursued through a project of clarification rather than classification. The research draws from a wide range of sources, from online symposia, magazine articles and publications to art exhibitions and their materials, to expose some of the conflicting and convergent representations of sound art within the artworld. Critical analysis of key ideas and themes identified in this source material is supported through reference to the history and theory of art and music as well as genre and culture. Sound art is an ambiguous and mutable concept that shares concerns with other forms such as experimental music and sonic art but has also developed specific generic meaning. Despite an apparent reluctance to define sound art, the category plays an active and important role within the institutions, industries and academies of the artworld. High-profile survey exhibitions such as Sonic Boom (Hayward Gallery, London, 2000) and Volume (MoMA PS1, New York, 2000) have been a major contributing factor to the growth but also uncertainty of sound art’s discourse due to their idiosyncratic and inconsistent representations of the genre and the ways in which sound challenges artistic traditions of display. They also highlight ideological tensions relating to the categorisation of contemporary art in postmodernity, which is rooted in modernist concepts of media, in showing how sound art simultaneously invites and resists definition. Sound art is typically concerned with issues of sound, space and perception. There are many competing interpretations of these definitional ideas, however, arising from a simultaneous association with and differentiation from the traditions of music and the visual arts. The ensuing institutional battle of territories and phenomenological battle of the senses pulls towards and away from the visual respectively. This unique cluster of tensions underpins the discourse of sound art and affords a categorical porosity and liminality that ultimately characterise it. Issues of definition are therefore central to the identity of sound art. An in-depth understanding of the ontological debates and dialectics within its discourse not only draws attention to sound art as a conceptual, philosophical and material exploration of artistic and human experience but also exposes the way in which the arts evolve and artistic meaning is created to provide an insight into the very nature and value of art itself.
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|School of Arts and Cultures
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