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The Sounds of Silence

February 1, 2013 - February 28, 2013


John Cage famously asserted that there is no such thing as silence or empty space: “There is always something to see, something to hear.” Inspired by Cage’s 1952 noise-cancelling composition 4’33”, the exhibition Silence considers the absence of sound as both subject and medium in modern and contemporary art and film. With a tranquil array of painting, sculpture, and installation from the past one hundred years, Silence fills the galleries with a critically conceived quiet. But what of silence and the moving image? In the absence of intentional film sound, silence can become a reasoned but imperfect lack, expressing timbres at once aesthetic, revelatory, and sensorial. The Sounds of Silence concerns itself not with so-called silent cinema, but with different variants of quiet, from the hushed absolute of no-sound to a more muted mise-en-scène. The program A Kind of Hush comprises representative silent works from the avant-garde. Such practitioners as Maya Deren, Stan Brakhage, and Nathaniel Dorsky weigh in as advocates of differing quietudes. The avant-garde surfaces again but in full sonority with Sourcing Sound, a compilation of works by such artists as Stephen Vitiello, Rudy Lemcke, Robert Russett, and Semiconductor in which sound and image are initiated often from a single motivating source. Silence as a more cultural construct surfaces in several feature films: Bergman’s masterful The Silence describes the terrible quiet left behind by God’s absence, Pat Collins’s wind-swept Silence follows an audio recordist as he reconnects with the source of sound, and Philip Gröning’s reverential Into Great Silence closely portrays the muted days of an alpine monastery of silent monks. Philosophical, fundamental, or just faint, silence is beauty in the ear of the beholder.

Steve Seid, Video Curator

Friday, February 1, 2013
7:00 p.m. Silence
Pat Collins (Ireland, 2012). West Coast Premiere! Introduced by Bernie Krause. An Irish sound recordist returns to the landscape of his childhood in search of a pristine sonic setting in this brooding stew of stunning tableaux and documentary-like encounters with the people of the rugged North. (84 mins)

Sunday, February 3, 2013
5:00 p.m. A Kind of Hush: Experimental Works
Barry Spinello in person. Experimental filmmakers engage silence in a variety of ways in this collection of shorts. Includes Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon, Stan Brakhage’s The Riddle of the Lumen, Nathaniel Dorsky’s Threnody, Nam June Paik’s Zen for Film, Steve Roden’s four words for four hands, and Barry Spinello’s Soundtrack. (85 mins)

Friday, February 15, 2013
9:00 p.m. The Silence
Ingmar Bergman (Sweden, 1963). Introduced by Linda Haverty Rugg. Two sisters traveling through an unspecified land on the verge of war take refuge in a disused hotel in Bergman’s almost incestuous look at illness, desire, and attachment. Here, God has left the building and all that remains is a spiritual hush. (96 mins)

Sunday, February 17, 2013
2:00 p.m. Into Great Silence
Philip Gröning (Germany, 2005). Introduced by Gaetano Kazuo Maida. German director Gröning spent months among the monks of a monastery in the French Alps, sharing and observing their silence, attuning himself (and us) to the stillness of their devotion. The daily rituals—the prayers and meals, the walks and labors—establish a quiet and reverential rhythm. (164 mins)

Thursday, February 28, 2013
7:00 p.m. Sourcing Sound: Experimental Works
Rudy Lemcke and Darrin Martin in person. Experimental media typically seeks to undermine the logic between a sound and its source, but this program pursues a different path, where sound and image are unified by the medium. Includes work by Warner Jepson, Robert Russett, Scott Wolniak, Van McElwee, Stephen Vitiello, Darrin Martin, and Rudy Lemcke. (77 mins)

Silence is co-curated by BAM/PFA Video Curator Steve Seid and Toby Kamps, curator of modern and contemporary art, the Menil Collection. Special thanks to all of the filmmakers, particularly Nathaniel Dorsky, Steve Roden, Barry Spinello, and Stephen Vitiello; Joseph Newland at the Menil Collection; and the Academy Film Archive.
Silence is made possible in part by a major grant from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Additional support is provided by Rena Bransten, Nancy and Joachim Bechtle, Chris Desser and Kirk Marckwald, Celeste and Anthony Meier, Abigail Melamed, and the continued support of the BAM/PFA Trustees.