Episode 36 – The Art World Demystified by Brainard Carey / Allard Van Hoorn

Allard Van Hoorn interview

This last interview is with an artist named Allard Van Hoorn, and is a fascinating look into how one artist began in his thirties, found an unusual medium, and has been a nomad ever since. I have interviewed hundreds of artists now from Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas, and the most interesting ones have found something that continues to drive them, something like a quest. I think this next interview is one of my favorites because it contains what seems to me to be the quintessential quest of an artist.

The Interview

Carey: I’m talking with Allard van Hoorn. He’s an artist that is nomadic, traveling all over the world for site specific work that he produces. At the moment we’re talking to him from Italy. Allard, thank you so much for being with us today. Let’s talk about where you are now. I know you’re in Italy at a residency. Can you tell me a little bit about the residency and what it is that you’re pursuing there?

Van Hoorn: Yes, this is an open module of the UNIDEE, University of Ideas at the Cittadellarte – Fondazione Pistoletto. It’s a huge old textile factory that was set up by Michael Angelo Pistoletto to exchange ideas and to generate agents for social change through arts. We’re doing a workshop here based on architectural principles of the sixties and current movements that work towards changing perspectives on how we relate to our cities and to public space.

Carey: So that’s kind of a fascinating idea for a residency. It is an artist-created institution or residency and it’s obviously a nonprofit. I suppose it’s funded by the government, but perhaps you could say a little bit more about exactly what happens. Is there a workshop? Do you have a studio? Are you working there? If so, on what and for how long?

Van Hoorn: Yes, there are different modules. We are working in a workshop environment with artists, architects, theorists, thinkers. We are generating conversation that leads to possible new directions for structures of education, exchange of ideas, peer groups that allow for our contemporary way of communicating, open travel, and the idea of producing our work with different groups in different places in a more mobile sense than maybe a generation before was able to do.

So here, I’m currently working on the twenty-eighth iteration of my project called Urban Songlines. This is a project that I’ve been doing since 2009. It’s a project in which I translate public spaces and architecture into music by generating sound, site specifically, and then translating that into music. The idea came from the aboriginals that relate to their public space, which is nature, through singing that topography, singing the physical shape of their land, mapping it spiritually, embodying it and managing the relationship with that as well as with the animals that live together in that environment.

My objective for Urban Songlines is to translate public spaces into sound in order to listen to architecture instead of looking at it or inhabiting it. And finally to talk about these ideas of co-ownership and appropriation of public space through collaborating with musicians, dancers, skateboarders, roller derby girls, and technology in the audience in order, in the end, to make our architecture and our public space ours, the cities audible instead of visible.

Carey: So let’s talk about one project that you’ve done. I know that there’s been several with Songlines, but perhaps you could talk about how one was done. Like the factory where you used the fuse box as a method to generate sound. It could be that one or another one. Where you explain a little bit about how the whole event comes together and how the sounds are generated. Perhaps what it even sounds like.

Van Hoorn: When I arrive at a space, when I’m invited to work somewhere, I go into the space trying to find either historical references, future references, or current dynamics that are embedded within this shape and within the idea of the space.

For example, if you look at the Rosenthal Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati, this is a space designed by Zaha Hadid. It looks like a gray concrete slab that goes up through a glass square lobby of the museum slowly until that hits the back side, the back wall of the building. And there, it goes up under a ninety degree angle all the way as a spine, as a huge slab of concrete sidewalk, then going all the way up to the roof.

The space is intersected by huge black hanging staircases that were too big to be made within the architectural curriculum. So these were eventually made by a roller coaster company and they hang in that space as a huge X. And what I felt with that space was the idea of playing with verticality versus horizontality. That sidewalk going up straight into the air all the way up to the roof of the building, to me it felt like a game that was playing with ideas of gravity to make it less sober, to talk about what a building could be, I made it into a huge marble game in which I invited local young dance groups to work with eight-foot helium weather balloons that I filled with air. So they were able to run those down the staircases, bounce them off of the wall and used that lobby and the staircases as a huge marble game in order to give it that dynamic.

Then I ran around while they executed choreography of a marble game as a dance piece with eight-foot white weather balloons. I ran around and I recorded the sounds of the physical description of the topography of the building. So literally, the shape of the building being described by the balloons, and with a handheld I recorded myself running around them, trying to keep up with them. Then I sit down in a break, import that into a computer and a laptop and then I create live music of that sound that they generated.

So the speaking voice they generated off of the architecture, off the building, I translate it into music. This becomes the singing voice of the building and after that they re-improvised because I played that music live in front of a live audience and they improvised again to that music completing the dialogue of the dancers with the building. Then the resulting music is eventually pressed to vinyl records that I give it away to DJs for free. The DJs, through the technique of sampling, kind of redistribute that public space, that building in this case to a wider and wider audience.

As I said before, discussing this idea of co-ownership and appropriation of public space by a wider audience that does not necessarily have to be there at the performance. And that’s kind of the complete way, the cycle for Urban Songline to happen. I’ve created twenty-seven so far in places as varied as landing strips, bridges, warehouses, squares, and all around the world. Basically, anywhere or everywhere.

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