Paris-based artist Oliver Beer tells Bazaar Art about his site-specific commission for Abu Dhabi Art, his fascination with sound and space and the idea of universal human creativity.
Tell me about your background and your journey of becoming an artist.
I make art that’s very much influenced by music, sound, cinema, architecture and material history. I’ve always had a very sculptural approach to life, even as a child and I’m constantly fascinated by the way in which each of our minds absorb, project and twist ideas so freely and uniquely.
Walk us through the site-specific works that were commissioned for Abu Dhabi Art.
The exhibition is called A Thousand Faces and works with ideas of cultural conformism and individualism; visualised through a technique I developed called ‘Reanimation’. I asked over 1,000 children from diverse backgrounds in Abu Dhabi to participate in this project. Each child contributed a unique drawing that responded to one of six paintings from the Louvre Abu Dhabi, transforming the paintings through their own hands and minds. The children were invited to copy but freely reinterpret their selected painting and I then scanned and printed their images onto 16mm film to reconstitute the painting as a static animation. The result of this Reanimation is that the film screen becomes a vibrating canvas, its surface constantly changing and being recreated.
Another work at Al Qasr fort uses the same reanimation technique to transform iconic sequences from three very different animated versions of Aladdin across history. My work often has a musical thread to it and this time a transformed incarnation of an Oud appears in the show. The exhibition also included new sculptures of mine made from ancient swords and daggers which are again transformed, through music. Covered in musical grafitti, the sword and dagger sculptures reference the notion of traversing borders in the same way the two-dimensional Oud sculpture does, in that the musical graffiti is made using the scores of 12th century composer, Hildegard of Bingen, a radical female polymath whose music has lived through and crossed centuries of cultural change.
Oliver Beer, Dinner Party, 2019.
© Copyright Oliver Beer, courtesy the artist and Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London • Paris • Salzburg
What are your thoughts on the relationship between sound and space?
The nature of a space changes the way we hear sound and our subconscious is constantly interpreting the world through the way sounds bounce and ricochet around us. Sound is synonymous with space in so many ways because sound is movement. Sound rebounds around space in a very particular way and every empty space has its own harmony – in the same way that a glass or organ pipe or a sea shell has its own note according to its form – and the geometry and dimensions of the space determine the notes at which it resonates.
For example I’ve just built an architectural sculpture in the extraordinary Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania which takes the form of an acoustic cave carved into the hillside. I’ve determined its shape very carefully so that it naturally collects sound and channels it down through a tunnel deep into the underground museum. If anything is said at the mouth of the cave it can be heard deep inside the museum and the same is true is said of anything said at the other end of the piece deep inside in the museum, the architectural sculpture amplifies it outwards. It becomes a vast architectural anonymous communication tool. I’ve called it a Confessional because of the relationship it builds between the people experiencing it.
How have you explored the idea of universal human creativity and the idea that it transcends individual cultures of civilisations, time and places?
The stories we tell and the songs we sing are in a constant state of flux and the exhibition shows how individual creative gestures contribute to the culture of which they are a part and how recurring ideas across space and time can be borrowed, transformed and subverted.
The Louvre’s paintings form part of a shared human story that the museum has chosen to shape into a collection; and their reinterpretation by these children is a new way of perceiving these paintings and their image. The imaginations of children are endless and by inviting them to freely reinterpret the works we see, for example, an early portrait of George Washington morph through every incarnation possible. The unconscious comedy and critique of the drawings is extraordinary; and yet we can only perceive these as flickering elements within the structure of this very intense, almost psychedelic film.
There is an immediate sensorial stimulation in seeing the imaginations of thousands of children flash before your eyes. But behind the drawings are both individual and universal stories: on the one hand there are the stories of each individual child and their wildly creative way of seeing the world, the way in which their creativity is shaped and conditioned through education into conforming with cultural tropes.
On the other hand, there are the macro stories found in the magnificent paintings from the Louvre and the historic Aladdin films which bind the project together. And the sculptures in the exhibition carried the complex connotations and histories bound up in each of the physical objects which have been transformed. So the exhibition has become like a piece of music orchestrated by combining many diverse elements into harmony with each other. ■