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The Ship: Brian Eno

Le Commun - Geneva

Curated by Michele Robecchi and Anny Serratí

By Katharina Holderegger

Situated in the historic industrial building complex formerly known as the SIP Factory, next to the Museum of Modern Art, the Contemporary Art Center, the Center of Photography, Le Commun is a venue where exhibiti ever-present ons can be curated on application-a practice that often results in unique exhibitions and performances successfully challenging the more restrictive narratives of the established institutions next door. However, the 600-square-meter space has never before been so invigorated as it was during the last weekend of March, with the opening of renewed multimedia artist Brian Eno’s latest exhibition “The Ship.” Organized by Michele Robecchi and Anny Serratí, “The Ship” in Geneva is the third incarnation of Eno’s new installation. Previously displayed in Stockholm and Barcelona, the project continued to London, where its debut coincided with the release of Eno’s eponymously titled first solo album in four years at the end of April.

The starting point for both the installation and album concept was Eno’s fascination with the First World War, a historical occurrence originally intended to be “the triumph of will and steel over humanity,” but that in fact turned into a failure of tragic proportions. According to Eno, a hint about this course of events (and ultimately a strongly resonant metaphor) could be identified only three years earlier with the sinking of the Titanic, another story of a failed apex of human technical power. Having established his two main inspirational sources, Eno fed bawdy soldiers’ war songs and a soundtrack of an eyewitness account of the Titanic accident into a Markov text generator, eventually making a selection through a series of algorithms.

Brian Eno, The Ship, 2016, installation view, sound. Le Commun, Geneva. Photo: Nathalie Rebholz.

Brian Eno, The Ship, 2016, installation view, sound. Le Commun, Geneva. Photo: Nathalie Rebholz.

Always prone to expand his aesthetic vocabulary into visual forms (a practice he initiated in the late 1970s, with ambient films such as Mistaken Memories of Mediaeval Manhattan and Thursday Afternoon, as well as the collaborative project with Peter Schmidt for the famous deck of cards oeuvre Oblique Strategies), Eno then proceeded to create an installation that would reflect these ideas. If the experience would be confined to the album, you would only hear the two-channel version of the 20-minute composition. Visitors to the Geneva installation, however, benefitted from a unique multi-channeled installation as they moved through a strongly evocative space that nevertheless they themselves could control. A dozen loudspeakers blasted the multi-channel, electro-instrumental, vocal cluster of “The Ship.” Positioned on the floor on plinths or stacked like totems, the speakers were interspersed by classical plaster busts, with warm, colored hues of light appearing through wooden beams arranged diagonally in the space. This offered a respite from the deep unrest expressed in the lyrics, with the delicate juxtapositions between the different acoustic, spatial and visual rhythms and the space between the objects, ceiling and floor resulting in an overwhelming burst of energy. It’s a type of ever-present energy, but one rarely experienced in everyday life on a conscious level, that simultaneously transports us to the most mysterious corners of the planet as well as the deeper side of the ocean.

(March 3 - 27, 2016)

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