Tuesday, 5 November 2013

At the ICA, Lutz Bacher: Black Beauty – and a Musical Mystery



Until Sunday 17 November Opening Hours Tuesday to Sunday 11 am to 11 pm

An exhibition at the ICA that will leave you smiling, refreshed and with things on your mind other than the weather. 

I saw the downstairs room, with volcanic silicate, like some Hadean sand, upon the floor, twice. And although I admire it, I thought the artist failed to quite convert that powerfully proportioned room to her purpose.

On Saturday I returned to view the upstairs rooms. Here is beauty, filling the two rooms. In the smaller, there's an installation of horsey things – the turf, the fairground, childhood dreams, at least for girls, of Black Beauty, the iconic book by Anna Sewell. But for this artist, the horse is now a gentle, glimmering gold.

In the larger room, the installation sits upon a grid – partly a chessboard, purposefully a platform for the artist’s enigmatic vision. A small, sand-coloured camel leads the eye into the room. A friendly dinosaur seems to wave to us from another corner. In the centre, the wheel; the cycle; the clockwise; the counterclockwise, represented by a black bicycle wheel mounted on a white plinth. Compositionally, it ties the whole thing together.

Here is a super lifesize cardboard cut-out of Elvis (available, should you want one, from Amazon) wearing the gold lamé suit designed for Elvis’ Gold Records, Volume 2 issued in November 1959.

Big as this gesture is, there is an even bigger one. It’s a large phallus, done up to look like two chess pieces (remember the semi-chequered floor?). But it’s not. It’s a phallus. And she has sliced it down the middle. This is not the violent gesture it might be taken for. It is but a comment.

But what prepares you, as you climb the stairs, for all this popular iconography, is the sound of music playing. Opera you think? Is it Handel? And whose voice is that? Somehow it sounds Germanic. An American artist celebrating her roots?

It's ELVIS singing. What's she done? She's slowed down the vocal track; she's reversed the melody so that it plays backwards.

But it sounds like opera, oratorio even – dark, resonant, tugging at memory, those dotted crotchets and quavers descending; that heart-stirring, marching, 4 beats to the bar.

Finally, it comes. It's the Deutschlandlied, the national anthem of Germany.

So here is potential musical mystery. If I’m right, who wrote the original reversal for Elvis to sing? And what was the name of the resulting song? I think I’ve guessed it. What about you?

Institute of Contemporary Arts, The Mall, SW1Y 5AH
Free entry.


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