Over the past fifty years in the Fluxus era the parameters of visual experimentation within musical performance have been enormously expended. This experimentation reconfigures traditional views of musical performance to a new, alternatively engaging experience, one that embodies sound and space, object and image, resulting in a refreshing compositional form.
In this light, Degrees of Freedom by Polish art group, BNNT was not just an illustration. Some years later, I still have strong memories of the performance, which was intertwined with sound and object installation, and physically occupied an ongoing exhibition at the ICA, Space Painting by Chinese artist, Zhang Enli. The first impression of the set was overwhelmed by a dreamlike spatial aesthetic. A brightly multicoloured and unobstructed way of brush painting wholly encompassed the walls and floor. However, this dynamic visual impact was punched through with intermittent bursts of punk rock and noisy sounds by drummer Daniel Szwed banging cymbals and gongs. His drumming performance seemed to reach an almost utopian state of noise.
On the far side of Space Painting, black wooden battens were displayed against the wall as part of the performance installation. They trembled subtly, sometimes noticeably, jolteds by invisible vibration generated from the tremendous energy of the sound. Eventually they fell to the floor as if they were interacting with the provocative music. It created a curious combination of the visual media in a live performance context, with an intangible air of excitement about the intense frequency within the site-specific painting show.
Another visual attraction in the performance was that the artist, Konrad Smoleński, played an audio object called the Baritone Missile which he designed himself. This weapon, or guitar-like sonic piece, was constructed with various bits combining the elements of an instrument with an extremely low tone, and sometimes it sounded almost muted, contrasting with the drummer’s deafeningly loud and variable playing.
Smoleński’s performance paradoxically hosted both inaudible acoustic tension and a humorous allegorical visual impact; he seemed to be armed as a freedom fighter. The artist, who has visual art background, has ironically mentioned that he cannot play any instruments in a proper sense. Thus, his enigmatic contraption looked rather like an abstract sculpture with a military motif as opposed to a traditional instrument. The performance seemed to be neither improvised nor intended by the two half-naked artists in black masks; it looked anonymously guerrilla-esque and simultaneously evoked unrestricted and sheer ecstasy.
The manner of BNNT’s spectacle was closely associated with Korean artist Nam June Paik’s Fluxus object movement. The art form itself mostly materialised as events or performative art pieces. It has been described as attempting to make something nobody else has done before, and through crossing over artistic genres and styles and making much use of humour. The attempts were meant to blur the borders between performance and reality, performer and audience.
Sources: SMOLEŃSKI, K. (2013). S.T.R.H (Stones That Rest Heavily), The Solo Exhibition by Konrad Smoleński: The Laznia Centre for Contemporary Art, Exhibition catalogue p. 26.