Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Lee Ranaldo | Torn Photograph (for SR and RS)

Black Box was released as an edition of 150 in October 2000, to coincide with Sonic Youth's weeklong stint at the Ystad Festival in Sweden. 100 copies were made available for sale, and 50 copies were set-aside for the participants. Priced at $500, the box contained a variety of sound and visual art projects, most of which were exclusive to the set.

"They will be real rarities", said Ystad Kontsmuseum director Thomas Millroth, in advance of the release. "The reason we don't press larger quantities is that we don't want to compete with the record companies. This is an artistic 

The contents included Thurston Moore’s fanzine What I like About Feminism, Kim Gordon’s VIP museum discount card, a five-track CD by Jim O’Rourke, a sixty-two minute CD and a 7” single by the band accompanied by tenor sax player Mats Gustafsson, prints by Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd, Sven-Åke Johansson, Clara Hall, Frauke Eckhardt, and David Stackenäs, a silhouette cut-out by Leah Singer (from her series of works utilizing discarded rubyliths that she saved while archiving the photographic collection of the New York Daily News) and various other artworks.

Lee Ranaldo’s visual contribution was a ripped photograph in a glassine envelope, called Four Organs (Torn) and later retitled as Torn Photograph (for SR and RS). The piece conflates works by two of Ranaldo’s favorite artists – Robert Smithson and Steve Reich. The original Smithson work was itself created for a boxed collection, the 1970 Multiples Inc. Artists& Photographs project, which featured nineteen contemporary artists, including Mel Bochner, Jan Dibbets, Dan Graham, Bruce Nauman, Robert Rauschenberg, and Ed Ruscha. Smithson's contribution, entitled Torn photograph from the 2nd stop (Rubble), was a snapshot of rubble, ripped into four square pieces, and presented in a glassine envelope.

In that same year, Reich’s Four Organs was first performed, at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, on four Farfisa mini compact organs. The performance was recorded and released as an LP with a cover by Michael Snow, later that year.

Ranaldo recounts the origins of his work in an interview I conducted with him in October of 2011 for Magenta Magazine:

LR: [Steve] Reich’s Four Organs piece was very important to me when I first moved to New York. We were listening to his early tape pieces like Come Out and It’s Gonna Rain, but Four Organs just absolutely blew me away. When we moved into our apartment in 1995 I knew that Steve and Beryl lived there and I was in the basement one day – the building has this gigantic, really labyrinthian basement and everyone has a storage locker – and found, literally right outside of our locker, a big pile of musical gear, which I photographed because it looked interesting. Well, it turned out to be all of Steve’s stuff, and the four organs there were the four organs. So I took some more pictures, specifically of the organs and just had them laying around. At some point, I saw the Smithson torn photo and I thought it would be cool to pay homage to both of these people in one work.

The version that Paul + Wendy Projects has available came from a residency we were doing in Sweden in 2000 where they wanted to create a compilation boxed work of multiples called Black Box. I sent them a digital file for the work and the dimensions were wrong and they made a Spinal Tap ‘Stonehenge’ version out of it, considerably smaller than the Smithson piece that it was supposed to mimic! I finally had it printed myself at the correct size, in an edition of ten, a couple years later. Leah, for an anniversary present a few years ago, managed to find and buy one of the original Smithson pieces for me. I have them framed identically and when the Sonic Youth Sensational Fix show happened, we displayed the two works side by side, which was really cool.

Lee Ranaldo’s first song-oriented solo record, Between the Times and the Tides, is available today (on vinyl and CD) from Matador Records.


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