Artist Oliver Beer explores his fascination with sound and space in his installation ‘Household Gods’ at MIRROR.
The British Art Show is a landmark touring exhibition that celebrates the vitality of recent art made in Britain. Organised every five years by Hayward Gallery Touring, the exhibition brings the work of artists defining new directions in contemporary art to four cities across the UK. British Art Show 9 was developed at a precarious moment in Britain’s history that has brought politics of identity and nation, concerns of social, racial and environmental justice and questions of agency to the centre of public consciousness. The artists presented in the exhibition respond in critical ways to this complex context; imagining more hopeful futures and exploring new modes of resistance. BAS9 is curated by Irene Aristizábal and Hammad Nasar, and presented in collaboration with the cities of Aberdeen, Wolverhampton, Manchester and Plymouth.
British Art Show 9 explores three overarching themes – healing, care and reparative history; tactics for togetherness; and imagining new futures. Each of the four exhibitions across the city will also adapt to local contexts, with the exhibition in Plymouth centred on the migration of bodies, peoples, plants, objects, ideas and forms.
Plymouth played a central role in Britain’s colonial conquests. Most famously, the Mayflower set sail for the ‘New World’ – a European coined term – in 1620 from Plymouth’s docks. This Euro-centric perspective seeded the belief that this ‘new’ land and its people were available to Europeans to extract and exploit, and also led to the marginalisation of indigenous cultures and practices. In Plymouth, the exhibition focuses on the way that encounters between British and other cultures have enriched British society, in ways that are still visible today.
Oliver Beer’s work ‘Household Gods’ is being displayed at MIRROR as part of BAS9. ‘Household Gods’ is a sound installation and sculptural work, reflecting Oliver Beer’s current exploration of the relationship between sound and form, and the innate musicality of the physical world. The ‘Household Gods’ of the title are physical objects, placed on plinths in a whitened room and idolised to the point where they can sing. In the main space of the gallery, they are given voice and raised to the statues of household divinities. Beer uses microphones to amplify the ambient sound ricocheting within the internal spaces of the objects, creating gentle acoustic feedback loops that allow us to hear the innate sound of each object. These notes are determined by volume and form of empty space, and have remained unchanged since the day each piece was created. Reflecting the omnipresent tradition of animism and pan-cultural reverance to objects, Beer acoustically invests his unique collection with a spirit. Encouraging aural interaction with each object’s histories, the installation gives rise to a complex narrative of cultural assimilation, appropriation and access.
The installation’s three sections represent his grandmother, mother and sister: their visually disparate possessions, elevated on plinths like objects of devotion, were chosen because musically they are in complete harmony with each other. In Beer’s portrait of his grandmother, a First World War German artillery shell, used to store her walking sticks, sings a perfect fifth with the remains of an ancient chimney found in her garden, which in turn chimes in a fifth with her Japanese rice-cooker. Among the objects representing the artist’s sister is one actual household deity: a ceramic statuette of the protective demon-god Bes, from ancient Egypt.
A multidisciplinary sculptor with a background in music, Oliver Beer has a particular interest in the relationship between sound and space, and especially between the voice and architecture. Born in Kent in 1985, he has used vocal performances to awaken the natural harmonics inside buildings, from the Sydney Opera House to a hammam in Istanbul, and asked pairs of singers to explore the resonant frequencies of each other’s faces. Beer also orchestrates ensembles of vessels – hollow objects possessing an opening – producing tuneful but visually discordant displays.
‘You cannot make a container without making a note,’ Beer explains, ‘if you look at objects from an acoustic perspective, they can start to reveal things about themselves that we wouldn’t have realised had we been observing them purely visually. Like a seashell or a wine glass, every hollow object has a note to sing based on its form and volume; if you whisper different frequencies into it, you can find and stimulate a note that has been ricocheting inside there since the day it was made.’
British Art Show 9 is delivered in partnership with Plymouth Culture and is being shown across four venues, MIRROR at Arts University Plymouth, The Box, KARST and The Levinsky Gallery at the University of Plymouth until 23 December 2022. MIRROR is open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm, Saturday 10am to 2pm and closed on Sundays. It is free to visit MIRROR.