Self-portrait with Flaw

Once upon a time, but not so long ago, a writer concluded an exhibition
review with a somewhat sad reflection. The exhibition had been based upon
E.A.Poe's essay, 'The Philosophy of Furniture' and showed an environment
that gently critiqued the sheer endless cycle of production and waste of
objects, so typical of capitalist society. Is it not indeed true, he asked
himself, that the things in the world have already distanced themselves
from us, but that we have yet to realise it? Because we stare ourselves
blind at the processes we started ourselves, and have lost sight of the
true nature of things?

Thinking of James Beckett, these questions came to my mind.
At the Open Studios of De Rijksakademie in 2001, he showed an intriguing
work. In his darkened studio it seemed as if
objects had taken control. A weird animism seemed to drive them forward, as
if human intervention had become obsolete. A light bulb went off and on; a
pile of books was grouped out of reach on a high shelf; empty perfume
bottles lay strewn across the floor. A sink noisily fell down, as if propelled by
itself, only to return to its normal position later. With intervals, blasts
of funny noises were coming from a mass of speakers, huddled together in
the air.

This strange work impressed me. I experienced the world of an artist who
gives free play to the musings of his mind. There was no escaping this. It
made me think of the painter Philip Guston who, in a similar way, with his
paintings populated by strange living creatures, put a spell on the viewer.
- Work that stands so close to an artist that you cannot escape
experiencing it as a self-portrait.

It doesn't happen so often that an artist accomplishes a work which tells
so much of himself, yet at the same time retains his secret. In this sense
I would like to look at Beckett's 'Museum of Noise', for which he won the
Prix De Rome for Art and Public Space. This work combines a collection of
city sounds with a databank on the history of city sounds, and an
'urban-noise-theme-park' the size of a living room (this was how it was
exhibited the first time). The work gives access to a range of experiences,
as the visitors may trigger the exponents which produce sound;
for example: burnt out tube-lights rendering sound waves - also when they're
used up, tube-lights continue to emit electric impulses, read, continue to
have a life of their own. The result in the work of Beckett is the
extraction of elementary patterns of sounds with an often poignant rhythm
and crisp musicality.

'Museum of Noise' comes from the artist's experiences in the cities he has
lived in and visited. Sounds emitted by mechanical and electronic, or
otherwise propelled devices in the city, appeal to him. Beckett engages
with the lives of these devices, in the same way that artists like Duchamp
and Picabia in the beginning of the last century were interested in
technical inventions and incorporated these in their work (think of
Duchamp's 'Large Glass': a symbolic machine wasting sexual energy). Beckett
makes art in which objects seem to plot against us. With a cheerfullness
that sometimes can feel a bit sinister, he reminds us that we ourselves
have put these objects in the world. Pay attention, is what he's saying, of
what they tell you about your life!

Mark Kremer