While in Istanbul this past summer, I had to pass by Istanbul Modern to explore its current collection and see what it had to offer. Naturally, there were many thought provoking paintings, sculptures and installations created by a range of artists from around the globe. One of the many pieces that stood out was a video triptych titled “Session” by Turkish artist Nevin Aladağ. The piece was commissioned by the Sharjah Art Foundation and first exhibited at the Sharjah Biennial in 2013 before being exhibited at many venues and finally being installed at Istanbul Modern.
The three videos were shot in the streets and desert of Sharjah, U.A.E. The subjects: found instruments. Instruments that had once made music but have been discarded or lost in and around the city, have been given a new life through the making of these videos. The interesting bit is that Aladağ gives these instruments a new soul not by playing them in the traditional sense but by allowing them to be played by the elements; namely: the sand, sea, wind and water.
The various Arabic, African and Indian instruments found are given a chance at a new life within the very environment where they had been discarded; and the video is the medium by which these instruments continue to spread their music, giving each instrument a new purpose in a new context. To add another layer of meaning, the instruments also represent different cultural groups that live harmoniously, side by side in the city itself.
The instruments are shown in various parts of Sharjah as they “discover” their newfound sounds in a variety of different landscapes and social structures within society. These “characters” each take on an identity of their own as they are let loose – as it were – and allowed to do as they please in any given context.
The title itself is quite interesting. As I sat, watched and listened to the videos being projected side by side, I realized the title “Session” refers to a jam session between musicians, except here, there aren’t any. It is the environment that the instruments are placed in that are the musicians as their sounds are projected throughout the city and recorded. Although the choice of instrument and their placements are planned by the artist, there is no way of telling exactly what sounds would be made. This creates an “improvised session”. The juxtaposition of the three films gives the whole piece a layered aspect of one instrument supporting the next even though the audio doesn’t make much sense as far as musicality goes.
I found that watching the piece once and only listening to the instruments the second time made the illusion of auditory layering easier to identify.
The clip below was recorded in Frankfurt on the 24th September 2014