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I'm an arts journalist & PR consultant living and working in Scotland. I've been a journalist for more than 25 years. I write a regular column for Scottish quality newspaper, The Herald. I deliver a PR service with an arty bent and work on a consultancy basis with arts organisations, including Scotland's leading creative industries festival, XpoNorth & broadcast support body, ScreenHI. I am currently co-writing a book about the celebrated Scots artist, George Wyllie, with his daughter Louise. Instrumental in making a celebration of his life's work happen in 2012. For more information, see www.georgewyllie.com When I'm not being a mum/working, I talk to my dog. He laps it up. Contact me on janpatience@me.com (All work © Jan Patience)

Monday, 21 February 2011

John Cage @ The Hunterian, Glasgow

River Rocks and Smoke 4 11 90 #1 (1990) by John Cage
The man himself...

Exhibition Profile: John Cage: Every Day is a Good Day

Hunterian Art Gallery
82 Hillhead Street, University of Glasgow, Glasgow
0141 330 5431
From today until April 2 (not open Sunday)

In the course of wandering around the web to find out more about the life and work of radical composer and artist John Cage, it occurred to me that he would have been energised beyond his wildest dreams by the possibilities presented by the internet.
Although he died in 1992 at the age of 79, just prior to the explosion of the internet into everyday life, Cage was fascinated by technology.
Today, with one or two clicks, you can see and hear Cage talking about his life and his art. There he is in his loft apartment in New York, making sounds in his kitchen (while talking about how John and Yok’s macro-biotic diet has helped him fight crippling arthritis), and best of all, there is is, talking about the importance of silence. And about making music.
What the internet allows you to do is see and hear, almost firsthand, is the fresh approach which made Cage one of the twentieth century’s most original thinkers.
“What is most invigorating for me,” he explains in one film, in his distinctive slowly cadenced mid-Atlantic accent, “is the music that has not yet been written.”
In the same film, he states: The sound I like to hear over all others is the sound of silence.”
Exhibiting extraordinary energy, Cage can be viewed using the stuff of every day life to create his chance-based compositions. Juicers, fans, blenders, short-wave radios, televisions, kitchen drains and computers were all part of his armoury of instruments. He was clearly entranced by the idea of computers and began experimenting with them in the mid 1960s before the average person had even heard of a computer.
Cage is probably most famous for his silent work in three movements, 4'33". This extraordinary work, dating back to1952, is there for all to see and hear online. Or not hear.
Seeing a 2004 performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, ‘conducted’ by Lawrence Foster on YouTube in 2011 (audience coughs and all), you can only imagine what Cage, the ultimate conceptual artist, would have made of it all.
Although most people view Cage as a composer, he was was closely connected with art and artists throughout his long career. After dropping out of college in his late teens, he travelled to Europe and spent several months in Paris studying Gothic Architecture.
Back in the States, he consorted with all the leading lights of abstract expressionism in the 1940s and one of his all-time heroes was his friend Marcel Duchamp, the grand-daddy of conceptual art, about whom he once said: “I literally believe that Duchamp made it possible to live as we do.”
Cage’s career as a visual artist did not begin until he was in his mid-60s, and over the course of the next 15 years, he produced over 600 prints as well as 260 drawings and watercolours.
In his visual art work, Cage applied the same chance-determined procedures he used in his musical compositions. Every Day if a Good Day, a touring exhibition organised by Hayward Touring and BALTIC with guidance from the John Cage Trust, is showing his Ryoanji series of drawings, made during the 1980s. Cage experimented with burning or soaking the paper, and applied complex, painstaking procedures at each stage of the printmaking process.
The exhibition was installed last Wednesday (Feb 16) using a computerised version of the ancient Chinese oracle, the 'I Ching'.
The computer-generated random number programme determined the position of each work, resulting in works being displayed at many different heights, and in groups that no curator would ordinarily choose.
The hope is that, in true Cage spirit, chance encounters between quite different works give a sense of them being part of an ongoing creative process, rather than the result of one creative moment. Cage disliked linear displays and employed this method in several exhibitions, including one of his last, Rolywholyover, in Los Angeles in 1992, which he described as a ‘composition for museum’.
According to the writer Roger Malbert, who has penned the introduction to a book to accompany the exhibition, ‘Cage’s visual art cannot be viewed in isolation from his activities as a composer, performer and writer.’
“From his earliest musical scores to the large-scale New York happenings, virtually everything Cage did was emphatically visual.”
Running alongside this exhibition, Glasgow University is hosting a series of performances of Cage’s music at Tramway and in the university. For more information, see the Hunterian’s website. While you’re there, check out the man himself. Online and on form.

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