Anri Sala and The Last Resort

by Angelica Villa

Anri Sala. The Last Resort, 2017. 2-channel sound installation, 38 altered snare drums, loudspeaker parts, snare stands, drumsticks, soundtrack and 4 speakers; 58 min. 28 sec.,334 3/5 in diameter. Image courtesy of the author.

Marian Goodman Gallery
24 West 57th Street
March 2nd — April 14th, 2018

In the work of Albanian artist Anri Sala, the auditory has served as a salient undercurrent. Sound functions as a mechanism by which memory is transmuted, and experience is plasticized. With a new installation titled The Last Resort (2017) presented at Marian Goodman Gallery, Sala composes an intervention in Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major, K. 622. Against a soft and pervading recording of Mozart’s classical score, the sound of thirty-eight automatically-playing snare drums, mounted from the ceiling, intercepts gently. Between the two lines of music, the symphonic merge is both above and all around, disseminating through the space in a coalescent hum.

At its core, The Last Resort reimagines the canonical with a sonic interruption that reminds an audience of some pending event. The distant roll of drums in concert resounds like quiet thunder. Unpitched percussive rupture in the atmosphere recalls a martial effect — a signal to move, to collect. The beats we hear are just slightly accumulating, and difficult to coherently grasp. This interception, in its concealed manner, acts as a slit in the performance’s memory, a break in the original score that only exposes itself like a thin film.

Sala’s self-imposed tactic drives the auditory experience through two conflicting currents: one, an instinct to drift off through the flora and lithe of a classical song; another to awake and to assemble one’s senses. The low frequency of the drum’s collective sound, this fragmented and barely present reverberation recalls the performance’s ghost, a piece of cultural history once played in the past and here reimagined in the contemporary. The Last Resort reveals Sala’s intention to imagine the transportation of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major through a reverie-like passage, altering its composition and layering its auditory nuances.

Separated by a long and narrow hallway through which Mozart’s recorded orchestra begins to fade, the second portion of this exhibition opens into a black room with Sala’s film If And Only If (2018) set widely across the back display. Doubled in parallel projection between screen and wall, with a frayed illumination, the site is charged with an anesthetic effect. Here begins the submersion into a new concert. Pervading throughout the gallery is a viola playing, soft and anodyne, the reconfigured composition of Elegy for Solo Viola, originally composed by Igor Stravinsky. In this instance, Sala interrupts the original music with a small yet crucial alteration.

Placed on the player’s bow, through shifting hypnosis, a barely detectable snail moves across slowly as the performance progresses. The animal’s presence, its pace and weight causes a sensitive disruption in the fragile poise of the musician’s execution. This transgressive lapse provides a source of digression from the piece originally arranged. As heard and felt in the previous work, this event exposes a simultaneous discourse between the two agents, the player and the rupture. Each are conflicted yet diffusing through a blemished sound. In adjusting Stravinsky’s elegiac monologue with a physical blip, Sala codifies a palpable effect between the two moving actors and resulting resonances.

Sala’s impositions in these two works consume the audience in the consequences of music’s incontrovertible inimitability. For the artist, music’s charge against the explicable provides its unique significance, music “has a way of dealing with meaning which differs from that of language. Music can resist meaning.”

Angelica Villa is an Appraisals Assistant at Christie’s and currently a Master’s student at New York University.