Critics’ Picks

Tris Vonna-Michell, Wasteful Illuminations: Distracted Listening, 2015, audio, loudspeakers, aquariums, ink-jet print, bench, dimensions variable.


Tris Vonna-Michell

Jan Mot
Petit Sablon / Kleine Zavel 10
December 5–January 30

In order to understand Tris Vonna-Michell’s practice, it is crucial to be aware of his affinity with the history of experimental poetry—an allegiance that is clearly demonstrated in this exhibition. The show consists almost entirely of one installation, Wasteful Illuminations: Distracted Listening, 2015, in which sound is the dominant feature. The audio is based on a field recording that Vonna-Michell made in 2008 in Japan—which has its conceptual origin in an earlier trip there as a teenager. This complex soundscape of Japan’s urban environment was then transcribed by the artist into a score for a sound poem. The poem, as read by two actors (an English male and a Japanese female), captures both the intricate textual character of avant-garde poetry and the spatial presence necessary for a successful installation. By commissioning others to record the piece, thereby forgoing his own rapid, signature voice, Vonna-Michell refuses the reduction of his work to mere autobiography and instead skilfully presents the multiplicity of his practice where the personal is but one of many layers.

The installation is made complete by an ink-jet print photograph placed behind three identical small aquariums. These aquariums obscure the picture and act as a filter that distances the photograph from the viewer. The tanks of water are also the only source of light in the main exhibition space, giving the installation a contemplative and melancholic atmosphere. By presenting a deceptively simple exhibition that is in fact bewilderingly multifaceted, Vonna-Michell demonstrates a maturing artistic language that distinguishes him among young artists.