Summer 2007, WM #4: P.S.1. Organizing Chaos.

Summer 2007, WM #4:  P.S.1. Organizing Chaos.

Christian Marclay, Guitar Drag, 2000 DVD projection 14 min, Courtesy the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York


P.S.1. Organizing Chaos



I would almost say that visiting P.S.1 in Long Island City is never a total disappointment. Sure, you can dislike many of the artworks, or you can criticize the curatorial concept of group exhibitions, but there is always something that you will like, or something that you will find interesting enough. Whether it is a new, long-term, site-specific installation, a huge outdoor project in progress, or a publication in the institutions’ bookstore that you didn’t yet hear about; P.S.1 seems to balance perfectly between an alternative, multidisciplinary contemporary art space, and a fancy, MoMA-affiliated art temple. Its attitude is appealing. You’ll get a bit of everything, and that makes you want to go back regularly.

Far away from the current art fuss in Europe, P.S.1’s newest exhibition is titled ‘Organizing Chaos’, and is organized by Senior Curatorial Advisor Neville Wakefield. Known in New York for courageously showing established and emerging artists in combination with each other, Wakefield designed an exhibition that carefully places only a few artworks in the white spaces of the old public school. At first, you might think that some sort of new or retro Minimalism, hailing the same old ‘less is more’-motto, has snuck its way back into the contemporary art scene. Beyond the installation of the work, the exhibition is well thought-out, and is interestingly designed based upon various musical scores that crescendo from silence to noise. This is an exhibition about chaos, presented in a neatly organized way, and it is amazing that such a thing is possible.

Honorably, the show starts with John Cage’s 4’33”. Cage’s work, unavoidably, is immediately “interrupted” by Luke Fowler’s wall-filling projection of re-edited, found footage. Almost symbolically, the established artist is shown in combination with the exhibition’s youngest artist in the very first room of the show: the curator’s shtick. Fowler’s ‘Pilgrimage from Scattered Points’ focuses on the English composer Cornelius Cardew, whose avant-garde orchestra celebrates the view that 'anyone can play.' Perhaps in a humorous way, Cardew’s statement echoes in the work titled ‘Guitar Drag’, by Christian Marclay. Installed on the other end of the exhibition floor, Marclay’s video records the sonic destruction of the instrument as it is pulled along a road. A full 14 minutes of exaggerated guitar distortion is what he gets out of that unorthodox musical action. Less radical in an audiovisual way, but similarly humorous, is Bruce Nauman’s detailed report of ‘Mapping The Studio (Fat Chance John Cage.)’ A series of Xeroxed sheets of paper indicate the time and form of activity in the originally projected video piece. Reported activities, such as, ‘train whistle’, ‘Bruce walking out of room’, ‘dog bark’, ‘sound of rain’, and ‘cat meow,’ mainly describe sounds at the artist’s studio space during the night.

 Sound, Real Time and Reel Time

The component of sound, whether it is heavy guitar noise or simply a written description of the minimal sound of a mouse tiptoeing along a studio wall, seems to be a crucial aspect of the show. It almost seems as if the curator wants the show to be a musical composition of sound, in variation with the symbolic description of sounds. Rather than having curated a traditional exhibition, showing works that are present in the current moment during the exhibition, ‘Organizing Chaos’ has quite an interesting metaphorical and intangible value. In this context, a lot has to do with the aspect of real and reel time. Take for instance Bruce Nauman’s ‘Mapping The Studio’ again, in the text version shown at P.S.1. The length of the raw footage for this piece is about forty-two hours altogether, made over forty-two nights of shooting during the course of four months. However, the total projection time, or reel time, of his 7 simultaneously running videos, would be six hours. The video installation intentionally triggers a sense of endlessness, “like those Andy Warhol films,” as Nauman himself said, which is now reduced to a finite numerical indication of his recordings’ beginning and ending times. Undoubtedly, the exhibition’s intriguing relationship between time and sound is still the most apparent in John Cage’s work, with the title indicating the duration of the work and the work being whatever you would hear during those 4’33” if it were preformed. 

 The Missing Piece

Every exhibition has a missing piece. In the case of ‘Organizing Chaos’, Neville Wakefield forgot to include a version of, or make a reference to, the amazing work ‘Dream House: Seven + Eight Years of Sound and Light’, a collaborative sound and light environment by composer La Monte Young and visual artist Marian Zazeela. Described as a “time installation, measured by a setting of continuous frequencies in sound and light”, ‘Dream House’ is the artists’ longest running artwork so far. It opened in 1993 and is now at year fourteen. The artists view ‘Dream House’ as a modernist construction. They have developed a controlled environment that aspires to being a unique art experience. It also derives from a minimal aesthetic in that the sound component is comprised of “continuous sine-wave drones, and the light art component features slowly changing shapes and subtly changing colors.” The sound and light in ‘Dream House’ seem to be simple at first glance, but are complex when considered more deeply. (Quotes are taken from the MELA foundation website listed below.)

Young and Zazeela are the cofounders of the MELA foundation, an acronym for Music Eternal Light Art, to promote and disseminate his music. As Nicolas Bourriaud writes: “Time does not pass, it ‘percolates.’”


May 24th - September 24th, 2007

P.S.1. Contemporary Art Center

22-25 Jackson Avenue,

Long Island City NY


1993 -

MELA Foundation Inc.

Church Street, New York, NY 10013

whitehot gallery images, click a thumbnail.

Jan Van Woensel

Jan Van Woensel is an independent curator, art critic and musician based in Brooklyn, NY. He is the curatorial advisor of Lee Ranaldo and Leah Singer and curator of Studio Philippe Vandenberg. Van Woensel is professor at CCA, dept of Curatorial Practice in San Francisco; Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles; and NYU, dept of Art and Art Professions in New York. Office Jan Van Woensel, a team of assistant curators supervised by Van Woensel, works with international clients such as private collectors, art galleries and artists on exhibitions. Contact: 

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