‘When All is Quiet’: Isolation, Immersion, and the Kaiser Chiefs at York Art Gallery

It seems that ‘When All is Quiet’, boundaries blur. At least, this is the case when referring to the Kaiser Chiefs’ specially curated exhibition at York Art Gallery. Taking gallery-goers on a unique listening and viewing experience, they create a bubble of audio-visual isolation in a busy public space.

This experience is cultivated most strikingly in the room ‘The Kaiser Chiefs Takeover York Art Gallery’s Collection’. Here the band have paired eleven paintings with eleven songs. The band subverts the communal viewing experience of a public gallery; in assigning one headset to each painting, they assign one viewer to each piece. Connections between the three entities at play, it is almost tripartite. Connections are made by the viewer between the paintings and the music and themselves and their own experiences.

The room is juxtaposed by the exhibition in the preceding room, Janet Cardiff’s ‘The Forty Part Motet’, in which a forty-part choir sings through forty individual speakers. The contrast renders the viewer acutely aware of the silence contained within the penultimate room of the exhibition; a silence which works to dismantle the collective viewing experience in favour of an immersive individual experience.

Arguably, the most striking piece in the room, and one that lends itself to the experience of isolation and immersion, is the pairing of John Golding’s ‘H.19 (Canticle)’ and The Beach Boys song ‘Caroline No’. The way in which the piece itself is displayed is an act of isolation: it stands removed from its place within Golding’s collection, the ‘H’ phase, and, therefore, is removed from its context among the artist’s other works. The piece is large, the only one displayed on the wall, and comprised of bright yellows, blues and greens which are enriched by the dark grey wall the piece is set against. The viewer is forced to consider the piece of, and in itself; isolated from the context existing around it.

Put on the headphones, take a step back. As ‘Caroline No’ begins to play, you are visually, and auditorily, immersed. Separated from the public space around you, the perception of the yellows and blues as indicating a warm and happy mood become symbolic of an increasing sense of loss, and a disruption of happiness, when backgrounded by the melancholy pleas of “how could you lose that happy glow?”

Each individual person experiencing this intimate engagement with art and music will come away with an equally individual interpretation. When all is quiet, when you are forced—by the art—to retreat into your own thoughts as the public space around you descends into silence, you can fully immerse yourself in the art. Maybe then you are able to understand what the Kaiser Chiefs are communicating throughout this exhibition – that the relationship that exists between art and music is one which is intimate and inextricable.

By Molly Hill

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