Don’t mistake noise for sound. There are in fact many kinds of noise, explained Jordan Knecht, who is among the artists whose work will be featured in a new three-month exhibition from Breckenridge Creative Arts (BCA) entitled “NOISE,” running from December 1 to February 28.
When they see the word “noise,” most people think of sonic noise—the sounds we hear, inclusive of ambient background sounds. But living in a world full of quick moving images, billboards and advertisements, visual noise is a huge part of the human experience. Linguistic noise includes “words being thrown at us at a rapid rate,” Knecht said, and social noise is exemplified by our “interaction through social media.” He is quick to point out that “none of these is inherently bad.” Rather, they provide multiple access points for an exploration of the concept.
Knecht’s exhibition, which opens December 1 at BCA’s rebranded Gallery@OMH in Old Masonic Hall, consists of a series of installations in which visitors take an active role in the creation of the artwork—whether by creating sounds, pushing buttons, shining lights or following prompts in a printed booklet provided by the artist. The work is generative, meaning that although Knecht created the systems, the creative experiences change each time based on inputs by whomever is interacting with them. Often, the results are quirky or humorous.
“I think that it is necessary to fundamentally shift how people are interacting with art in a generation where human beings are born with screens in their hands,” said Knecht. Despite his training as a printmaker and book binder, and despite his love for traditional art forms, he feels these mediums may hold less relevance for younger generations. “I’m interested in art as a reflection of the world that is interacting with it,” he said. “I’m also interested in giving participants and viewers of art the power to affect what they are observing, and for them to feel as though the work is relevant because they are being reflected in it.”
“I want to create work that’s in direct opposition to the notion of artist superiority,” he explained. “I want to invite people to see the way I perceive, and also to experience how other people perceive. I think everyone’s perception is unique and valid.”
By exploring noise from multiple vantage points, Knecht’s work is inclusive of many perceptual strengths. “If you can’t hear, you can still experience noise. If you can’t see, you can still experience noise,” he said. “I want it to be something where people don’t feel excluded, where my oddball concepts are a little more accessible.” At the same time, he said, “I also want to make it for a 5-year-old-me who loved going to the science center and pushing buttons, and I had no idea what they did but I still had a blast feeling like I was allowed to be part of the experience.”
Exhibiting alongside Knecht at Gallery@OMH is composer and musician Jonathan Mason, who presented a playful symphonic work at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art last summer in which guests were invited to press buttons atop a series of Kandinsky-inspired colored boxes to activate variations of the symphony. Mason will show two new works in Breckenridge, one of which employs his inspiration from Kandinksy, and invites six participants to create a drum composition together.
Both artists’ installations work on two levels, explained Nicole Dial-Kay, who came on board as BCA’s director of exhibitions and special projects in September. “They are accessible, fun, participatory and almost fun-house style; and they offer the opportunity to participate in conversations around the act of creating,” she said. “If you come into the space and create the composition, who is the artist?”
Both artists also pull from important composers. “Jordan relies a lot on the works of John Cage, and Mason is very much rooted in classical music,” Dial-Kay said. “There is a tie from a long tradition of music to contemporary art exploration.”
Dial-Kay formulated “NOISE” after organizers of the Breckenridge Music Festival (BMF) proposed bringing Phil Kline’s “Unsilent Night”—a participatory sound installation in which audience members play one of four tracks on boom boxes as they walk a pre-determined route through town— to Breckenridge. A non-denominational performance created by the composer to take place during the December holidays, “Unsilent Night” has become a cult classic since its 1992 debut, and has been hosted by more than 100 cities on four continents. On December 2, BCA will present it as a part of “NOISE” in partnership with the BMF and the Breckenridge Tourism Office.
Meanwhile down the street at Gallery@ BRK inside Breckenridge Theater, the Fort Collins-based OFF Cinema will present a video installation for the duration of “NOISE,” as well an experimental film series December 11, January 15 and February 12.
Led by Jacob D. Barreras and Libi Striegl, OFF Cinema is known for The Unseen Festival, definitions of contemporary film. The group aims to “bring cinema that’s experimental or avant garde to audiences who are not expecting it,” explained Barreras, who curates emerging filmmakers almost exclusively. “We definitely feel this newer work being produced by filmmakers who are essentially just out of college is speaking to a lot of generations,” he said.
The exhibition, entitled “Sounds from Near and Fajr,” entails a series of three films by Spanish filmmaker Lois Patiño—“Montaña en Sombra,” “Noite sem Distância” and “Fajr”— running on a continuous loop. “We chose these films because they’re sort of transcendent in the way they handle time and place,” said Barreras. “Taken together, they “begin with the setting sun, progress into darkness and finally emerge with the rising sun over the dunes of Morocco as if we’ve traveled through the night in just under an hour, and time has almost vanished in the remarkable spaces we’ve visited.”
“Lois’ work is always playing with sound,” Barreras added. “It may not be diegetic sound,” which originates from a film’s world, “and it may not be ambience—but within his sound is an otherworldly exploration that really creates a sonic sense of echoing this place or this time.”
Each evening of the film series begins with one of Patiño’s films, followed by 4-5 works by various filmmakers curated to “match the mood or essence or theme” of the opening piece, while focusing on the “idea of juxtaposition or disconnection,” where “what’s being heard is not always what’s being seen,” Barreras said.
“A lot of times people only go to things they are comfortable with,” he added, expressing hope that people will attend regardless of whether they know anything about experimental film. “What we are presenting is something unique. Unless you live in New York or San Francisco or for a couple weeks in Boulder, it’s tough to see experimental film. We are trying to create accessible programs, and to inspire people who might not have seen or considered experimental film to become a next generation of filmmakers.”
A host of other activities will support and activate the “NOISE” installations, including artist talks, classes and workshops. Among them is “Make Your Own Sound Rig” on December 1 and 2. Led by the Boulder-based cassette label Shadowtrash Tape Group, the workshop helps participants prepare sound rigs for “Unsilent Night.”
“NOISE” is the first in BCA’s retooled exhibition series, which features seasonally rotating installations, events and contemporary art interventions that cut across disciplines of visual art, performance, film, digital media and social practice. Each exhibition has an underlying theme or story that is firmly rooted in topics important to the mountain community. “NOISE” embraces risk-taking by exploring a difficult concept in creative ways, as well as the community’s interest in featuring a wide range of artists and mediums.
Starting with “NOISE,” BCA will host conversations “about what it means to be in a public performance artwork, and a sound work, and what it means to be in a gallery space and touch things, even beat on things,” Dial-Kay said. “All of those are pretty difficult definitions of contemporary art. ‘NOISE’ is a fun and engaging way to start that conversation,” she said, “and a good way of looking forward to the exhibition schedule.”
Photos: Jordan Knecht, Jonathan Mason