Arrangement for a Silent Orchestra is a painting and video project which explores the gradual dissolution of culture in contemporary society through the symbolic ruin of a personal and cultural icon, the violin. Using the violin as a metaphor, I intend to raise questions about the relationship between increasing technology and diminishing cultural heritage. I invite the audience to consider what makes the instrument precious in his or her own experience, and the impact of its loss.
As the only child of a piano teacher, I was instructed at an early age to choose an instrument and stick with it. At age eight I selected the violin, and at eighteen I put it down. The years between were fraught with accomplishment and ambivalence as I excelled at an instrument that in my adolescence I didn’t feel particularly passionate about. Since then, the violin has shown up in a recurring dream: I stand on stage at a recital and the pages on the music stand are blank, I have no memory of the melody, and the ensuing silence is paralyzing. The violin has reappeared periodically in my paintings, and its image has become central to my personal iconography.
We are all haunted by our unrealized pursuits, and anxiety is the material of our collective nightmares. I am interested in iconography as a social construct, and the images that endure in our collective memory. How does personal observation inform common experience? How are images tied to memory and social consciousness? And what is the role of pictorial representation in visual culture?
For a period of nine months I solicited damaged, incomplete or irreparable violins from violin shops nationwide. After collecting nearly one hundred violins, I piled them in a mountaintop clearing and burned them at dusk. I observed the site from six o’clock p.m. to six o’clock a.m., and the documentation of the event is the source material for the series of paintings and the video. The large-scale oil paintings depict the pile of violins in various phases of ruin: at sunset, illuminated by the lowering sun; at nightfall, in stages of burning; and at dawn, the charred remains. The time-based video documents the duration of the pile from sunset to sunrise, with the twelve hours of footage edited to forty-five minutes. The soundtrack for the video mirrors the event: birds and insects at sunset transition into crickets and burning at nightfall, then relatively quiet in the aftermath at dawn. The concept of time is important to both the paintings and the video; the representation of time in the paintings is expansive, whereas in the time-lapse video the pace is accelerated.
From the parable of the burning bush to the tradition of burning books, burning is a symbolic act, if sometimes a regrettable one. While the violin is personally significant to me, it is culturally symbolic to a generation that, due to circumstances such as increased technology and reduced public funding for the arts, is less likely to learn to play an instrument in school, seldom attends the symphony, and is unlikely to pass values of musical heritage onto their children.
To re-familiarize myself with the instrument after an eighteen-year hiatus, I resumed violin lessons and incorporated music practice into my studio practice. A performance accompanies the artist presentation; Beethoven’s Romance for Violin in F Major Op. 50 is from the Romantic period that included the artist Francisco de Goya and the historic paintings that inspire my images.
This project departs from and expands upon my former work. My past paintings were fragmented narratives along sociopolitical themes, whereas this project returns to my earlier interests in metaphor and allegory. My prior work was largely figurative, and now the figure is omitted; the absence of the figure emphasizes the viewer’s own relationship with the objects. This is my first undertaking of a video component, to ground my paintings in the concept of time.
Thank you to the following individuals and businesses for generously donating instruments to this project:
The Fiddle Doctor, Prescott, AZ; John Kelly, Lexington, VA; Valley of the Suns Violins, Phoenix, AZ; Blackerby Violin Shop, Dallas, TX; Brook Mays Music/H&H Music, Dallas, TX; Lee Dale Nigh, Fulton, MO; J.R. Judd Violins, Williamsport, PA; Strings and Other Things, New York, NY; Bishofberger Violins Ltd., Seattle, WA; Claire Givens Violins, Minneapolis, MN; Ute Brinkmann, Wallingford, CT; Long Island Violin Shop, New York, NY; A Violin Maker's Workshop, Cincinnati, OH; The String Shop of Arizona, Tempe, Az. Many others provided discounts or assistance finding instruments, thank you for your support.