Review: John Kannenberg – A Sound Map Of The Art Institute Of Chicago

John Kannenberg - A Sound Map Of The Art Institute Of ChicagoI’ve never been to the Art Institute Of Chicago, yet the sound that begins at 1:20 is unmistakable. It’s every cavernous museum entrance I’ve ever been to: the amplification of idle chatter into a nimbus blur of vowels and strung out sibilance, clinging to the hall’s far corners and high ceiling. The crowd echolocate the size and atmosphere of the room until an image starts to curdle in my mind’s eye (which may or may not be accurate): a vast and modern space of open air and hard flat surfaces; clinical white paint, right angles, minimal decoration, sheer and spotless surfaces.

I can hear the art and architecture in dialogue, carried in human conversation, mechanical noise and wandering footsteps. Soft glimpses of the art wafts into my ears via the mumbled discussions of its observers (“this was done in 1601…no: 1630…I like the look on her face…”), while the sudden imposition of silence makes me think of a large room with one gigantic painting, perhaps solemn and meditative in subject. The distraction of idle vocalisation is sucked out, and my thoughts are encouraged to swim into the resultant hole. Meanwhile, I use the sounds of other rooms to try decipher the manner of public engagement – sometimes the audience feels restless and distracted, striding briskly between paintings and passing only faint and fleeting observations between eachother.

If I concentrate I can sense the seams of ellipsis. Gradual fades bring the sounds of 10:45am in amongst the sounds of 9:30am, skipping out the bit in between. Yet there’s still a seamlessness that paints the experience like a recent memory: frequently vivid in detail, cross-fading over small crevices of the forgotten, swelling up in immaculate moments of sensory immersion. I’m dragged back to a place I’ve never been, lowered onto an elevator that strains and clunks as it carries me, nudged between rooms that seem to breathe in their constant acoustic polarity; inhaling the dull quiet of a small gallery annexe, expelling into the swill of illustrious main halls.