The idea for Forty Notes came from the research folders that volunteers create for each exhibition. Whilst updating the Fabrica archive , I was struck by the diverse range of subjects they could cover ie relating The Ptolemaic Scheme of the Universe and Navajo Cosmology to a sculpture. This echoed some distant thought of 70s conceptual art, the sort that takes away all aesthetics and fills the gallery with philosophical texts. Art as idea as idea.
Around this time, in the office we were all thinking about Janet Cardiff’s The Forty Part Motet. How could we market a piece that the experience of was invisible? How can one create some interest around an installation the form of which is intangible? “Well,” I thought “ideas are kinda abstract too.”
Ideas began forming. Laurence (communications and development manager) had suggested that for The Forty Part Motet it might be nice to do something over forty days. The time scheme of forty days is loaded with meanings. Periods of 40 days reoccur throughout the bible. It rained for forty days and forty nights to bring the great flood that Noah’s ark sailed on. Jesus wandered with out food or drink in the desert for forty days when being tempted by the devil. It symbolises a time of testing, spiritual cleansing and eventual redemption. This got me thinking “In what way could I use this significant number of days for my own trial and testing?” I decided to make a research blog, and for the forty days building up to the exhibition, I would post on it everyday.
Further inspiration came from The Forty Part Motet itself. It seemed such a clear idea. Take apart a complex choral piece of music and explore its structure, make it into a sculpture. It’s an art of appropriation, and appropriation brings with it all manner of past meanings. Despite the new context and new form, something from the past inevitably comes with a web of ideas from previous incarnations. I decided that Forty Notes would follow some of the strands of this web.
What really made this idea so exciting to me has been incorporating the notion of polyphony into the blog. Polyphony was a concept I’d never really heard of before. The idea came from music that was composed for many voices singing different parts. This idea has been translated to film, art and literature. Forty Notes looks at polyphony as a subject, but I also tried to create a polyphonic structure. Each note was intended to be a voice saying something different from the last voice. There are voices that reoccur with a new story, like a Janet Cardiff audio walk. The notes are fragments that somehow link to The Forty Part Motet, and somehow sit side by side with one another. I loved making juxtapositions: Christian Marclay next to the Book of Judith; Shortcuts next to Dostoevsky; Thomas Tallis and The Holy Trinity Church.
The process has been experimental. Laurence warned me that a daily blog was a serious undertaking. I was naive but if I had known how hard it could be, I probably wouldn’t have started. At times it drove me to distraction and came close to have having a detrimental effect on my social life.
All this being said, ultimately it has been extremely rewarding. It has forced me to commit to trying something I hadn’t been able to commit to before. I must admit I have been sceptical of the use of the Internet in the past. I would just use it for distraction. I realised that exciting new platforms of communication existed, I just did not know what I had to contribute.
Forty Notes has made realise the amazing ability the Internet has to communicate ideas, and through fragmented parts that add up to more than the whole. It flattens hierarchical structures of thinking to provide information that’s accessible to everyone. One of the key attributes of the polyphonic novel is open-endedness, and the Internet shares this quality. It is a web that provides new patterns of thought, where one thing leads to another and like life, it goes on and on and on…