Written by Curtis Coombes
London-based artist Tabita Cargnel explores the connection between architecture and noise pollution in her latest project Venus Smiles, which was displayed at the Tate, Late last June.
The installation is a sound sculpture that can be played as a musical instrument by multiple people simultaneously, irrespective of whether the players are trained musicians or not.
Named after the short story by James Ballard, the sculpture is formed of copper tubes connected by musical strings and held together in a static system – a phenomenon called ‘tensegrity’ – appearing as if the tubes are floating in the air.
“The sculpture is consciously designed to be connected to the space it sits in, through invisible vibrations in the room, in total harmony with its surroundings”, explains Tabita.
Tabita is an interdisciplinary artist from Cologne, Germany. Originally studying architecture at TU Darmstadt and she recently completed her master’s in Design for Performance and Interaction at The Bartlett School of Architecture. During this time, Tabita worked on an array of projects, all of which straddle the lines between music, architecture and technology.
Such projects include Dance Between Strings (a mechanical instrumental structure that visitors can inhabit), as well as Robot Drummer Gemma and Mr Artist. Venus Smiles is her most recent project, which sought to bring into focus the interplay between noise pollution and architecture.
“Noise pollution is rarely a consideration when it comes to architecture or urban planning, despite it having a damaging effect on both humans and wildlife. Venus Smiles highlights the connection between architectural design and soundscapes, and how it can be channelled for the benefit of a population or area. If carefully curated, noise can become music.”
“In short, what other ways – aside from digital technology – are there to move forward in sound design and innovation? In this case, not only instrumental design, but also architectural design. For example, can we make houses that are in tune with themselves? Can we make musical cities?”
The installation was originally displayed at the Bartlett Summer Fair, piquing the interest of Rebecca Sinker, a curator at the Tate. Rebecca approached Tabita’s stand, which held a range of tensegrity prototypes, and was enticed by the accessible, tangible nature of her sculptures – as well as the installation’s quality and intensity of sound and aesthetics.
After the project’s success at the fair, Venus Smiles was selected to be displayed at the Prototypes in Public show, and subsequently at Tate Late. Tate Late is a monthly event held at the Tate Britain, which features music, live performances, discussions and workshops – as well as the opportunity for visitors to explore the gallery after hours.
The tensegrity structure can be played by using hands, a bow or voice.
But Venus Smiles wasn’t solely a critique of our lack of acoustic awareness when it comes to architecture; it also sought to create musical interaction and dialogue between exhibition guests.
“People were unusually curious about the piece”, says Tabita, “they were intrigued about the floating copper tubes, and full of interesting questions about how the harmonic connections worked and what the greater meaning of the piece was.”
The surprisingly intense sound and the design of the sculpture makes it easy for guests to play, regardless of their musical background
“As guests interacted with it, they would start smiling, surprised by the sounds it produced. Visitors would hold their ears close to the tubes and strings, trying to figure out the exact origin of the sound. Some remarked that the sound had an earthy, indigenous quality – solid and intense.”
For more information about Venus Smiles, you’ll find everything you need to know here