Oct 24 2017

Anri Sala’s Last Resort: 33rd Kaldor Public Art Project

by Michael Young

Installation view of ANRI SALA’s The Last Resort(2017) at the Observatory Hill Rotunda, Sydney, 2017. Photo by Peter Greig. Courtesy the artist and Kaldor Public Art Projects, Sydney.

Philanthropist John Kaldor initiated his Australian public art program in 1969 with the audacious Wrapped Coast by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, for which the artists draped some-90,000 square meters of fabric over14.5 kilometers of Sydney’s coastal cliffs. Since then, there have been 32 projects from artists as diverse as Gilbert and George (1973), Ugo Rondinone (2003) and Tino Sehgal (2014). But few of the projects have been as socially relevant, historically immersive and exquisitely realized as Anri Sala’s understated installation The Last Resort, which premiered on October 11 in Sydney as the 33rd Kaldor Public Art Project.

At 43 years old, Sala is an internationally celebrated artist and filmmaker, attracting plaudits from around the globe. He has presented work at London’s Serpentine Galleries and the Tate; New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; the 2013 Venice Biennale; as well as other festivals and museum exhibitions.

Installation view of ANRI SALA’s The Last Resort(2017) at the Observatory Hill Rotunda, Sydney, 2017. Photo by Peter Greig. Courtesy the artist and Kaldor Public Art Projects, Sydney.

The installation consists of 38 inverted snare drums that are suspended from the ceiling of Sydney’s Observatory Hill Rotunda situated on the city’s highest natural point, affording expansive harbor views. Each drum contains two hidden audio speakers—one to convey music, the other to emit low-frequency sound waves that vibrate the drum skins, triggering the attached drum sticks to move in arbitrary and unpredictable patterns. These suspended drums are the work’s only visual components; the other major element of the work remains intangible. Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major has been appropriated and tastefully reimagined by Sala with the aid of the Munich Chamber Orchestra. Standing beneath the drums, the music emanates in a ghostly fashion with no clear source; it is like being drenched in a dazzling, unpredictable, Aeolian moment. We have all heard Mozart’s concerto before, but never like this—strange yet familiar, sparked from a simple idea, and yet complex in execution.

The concerto was Mozart’s last instrumental work, which he wrote in 1791, just three years after the First Fleet from England landed at Botany Bay in what is now New South Wales. The British brought the rampage of colonization, and spread their influence across the Australasian continent with the rapidity of an uncontrollable bushfire. Writing in the catalog, Sala said that he wanted to imagine how a fictional journey through the winds, waves and currents of the high seas would affect Mozart’s musical masterpiece. “My aim was to compose with corruption,” Sala writes, and this he has achieved while remaining faithful to the original score.

“It is geography of sound by an orchestra of drums,” Kaldor said at the unveiling of his work, but that is too simplistic a description to capture what is an intensely realized architecture of sound. Kaldor observed that the best way to enjoy The Last Resort is to lie flat on one’s back beneath the drums. With that, he threw himself onto the deck of the rotunda. By doing so, the drums were no longer simply inverted musical instruments; they became components of what is a cohesive, synchronistic, complex but neatly packaged array of ideas. It is not what you see here that makes the work so poignant, but what you hear, what you experience.

The Last Resort is many things: an art installation, a musical arrangement, public entertainment, an allusive compendium of sound that one might stumble upon unexpectedly in a public space. This work is the sum of these parts, and carries an emotive power. The work becomes even more poignant when one realizes that Mozart passed away just months after completing this composition.

“The work has many different layers, and I like it to be challenging but not demanding. For those who have a curiosity and affinity with the work, and want to scratch beneath the surface, they will find why I made certain choices,” Sala said of the shared encounter offered by The Last Resort. “But it is important that the listener remains under the experience of the work to appreciate it and judge it.” The latest entry in Australia’s Kaldor Public Art Projects is one that is pragmatic and democratic, one where a piece of music over three centuries old binds all those who wander within.

Installation view of ANRI SALA’s The Last Resort (2017) at the Observatory Hill Rotunda, Sydney, 2017. Photo by Peter Greig. Courtesy the artist and Kaldor Public Art Projects, Sydney.

Michael Young is a contributing editor of ArtAsiaPacific.

Anri Sala’s The Last Resort is on view at the Observatory Hill Rotunda, Sydney, until November 5, 2017.

To read more of ArtAsiaPacific’s articles, visit our Digital Library.