Visual arts and music students to give collaborative performance
Unlike musicians and actors, visual artists don't often get the chance to present their work on stage to a live audience. But on Nov. 21 at 8 p.m., University of Guelph printmaking students will be in the George Luscombe Theatre spotlight premiering work created in collaboration with students in U of G's Contemporary Music Ensemble. The 40-minute music/visual art performance, called Atmospherics, is free and open to the public.
As the musicians play, two printmaking students will slowly raise a black curtain to reveal a quilt made up of 20 intaglio prints arranged in four lines that will act as a visual counterpart to the music. Printmaking professor John Graham came up with the idea of unveiling the visual art by the sequenced lifting of a curtain.
"I thought making the quilt appear slowly would create a richer and more dynamic relational experience," he said. "It would also be time-based as opposed to a one-time experience. It's sort of a score for the audience. They'll be able to meditate on the visual art as they're listening to this music. Their concentration will shift along the mosaic as the music moves in time."
By encouraging their students to work together, music professor Ellen Waterman and Graham are giving them the opportunity to understand the creative process of another field. Ten students from the Contemporary Music Ensemble are working with 21 printmaking students to create the compositions and prints on common themes. "It's the exchange of ideas between the music and visual arts students that's crucial," said Waterman. "The students will talk about what they have in common and what's different about composing in visual arts and composing in music."
To prepare for the collaboration, Waterman asked her students to think differently about time. "I've been talking with students about sculpting time," she said. "The difference in music is often how it progresses over time; but in this kind of patchwork idea, it isn't so much about a sustained narrative over time, it's not so linear."
Music can also sound like certain colours and styles of visual art, she said. "We do group exercises where I say, ‘Now everybody be pointillistic, now everybody be very smooth and sustained.' It really is like a palette of sound choices and textures."
Graham said this collaboration has made his students see the similarities between the two art forms. "There are many similarities, like the notion of colour in music and colour in visual art, composition. Even figure-ground relationships in art exist in music as well, where you have a foreground and a figure. The similarities are really striking."
The prints may represent the music abstractly or concretely depending on how the students interpret the common theme, said Graham. "The challenge from my perspective is how the visual arts people will create prints which respond to the music appropriately. The print students have attempted to give form to the tone and spirit of each composition whether it might be celebratory, chaotic, harmonious, encircling, flowing or fractured."
Graham and Waterman hope audience members take away the common emotional intentions behind both forms of art. The finished product will be what Graham calls "visual music" and what Waterman calls "sonic art."
"We're making the art perform," said Waterman. "That's part of what's so exciting about it. The audience will get this interaction between the visual art and the music in the moment because it is a performance."
For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt (519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rachelle Cooper, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982.