Power and Ground explored methods of mapping, scoring and recording sounds of natures and cultures in San Francisco. Approximately 50 sites in the city were recorded while considering constellations of humans, machines, animals, the elements and money.
…Gradually or suddenly, one sees that humanity and nature, not separate, are in this world together.
John Cage, Silence
To know an animal or plant, or any terrestrial thing whatever, is to gather together the whole dense layer of signs with which it or they may have been covered; it is to rediscover also all the constellations of forms from which they derive their value as heraldic signs.
Michael Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences
The Mission Arts & Performance Project, Rosie’s Cheeks Garage, San Francisco, 2009
Vernissage, Fort Mason, San Francisco, 2009
2010 | Champlain Sound and Color
In 2010, using Maurice Benayoun’s Art Collider, Karson and Photographer Matt Larson sent digital images and sounds from Vermont’s Lake Champlain Waterfront to a live streaming exhibition at La Bellevilloise Gallery in Paris, France. Artists from Montreal, Canada; Paris, France; San Francisco, California; New York, New York, and Linz, Austria participated in the live event.
2015 | The Picture Was an Outrage
The Picture Was an Outrage was included in the exhibition Staring Back: The Creation and Legacy of Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon. Curated by Janie Cohen and on view at the Fleming Museum of Art, Burlington, VT February 3 – June 21, 2015
The Picture Was an Outrage, is heard…by viewers as they stand before a life-size projection of Demoiselles. This recording was made in collaboration with members of the UVM and Burlington arts communities, an extension of Karson’s own socially engaged art practices. What emerges as subject matter in this piece is the active role that conversation plays in the development of an artist’s ideas, as well as evaluation of the artist’s later impact. Staging the voices of seven members from Picasso’s inner circle, this sound installation presents snippets of personal responses to Demoiselles when it was first seen, in his studio in 1907. We hear the documented words of Picasso’s contemporaries such as Matisse, Georges Braque, Andre Derain and Alice Derain; writers and critics Gertrude Stein and Gelett Burgess; as well as the art dealer David-Henry Kahnweiler. The overwhelmingly negative sentiments captured by this sound installation point to the general consensus that Picasso may have gone mad while creating the work, which was initially deemed by his colleagues as a horrendous affront to painting.
The Picture Was an Outrage takes its power by representing a plausible moment of failure for Picasso. The harsh comments captured from over a century ago have a haunting effect, as the very first observations of this painting are reawakened. Criticism bounces through the room on a hypersonic speaker, which carries a strong psychological presence. The experience of sound feels almost as if it emerged from the viewer’s subconscious. Building a new dimension of physicality into our collective experience of Demoiselles, Karson casts a spell. She confronts Picasso’s greatest moment of vulnerability using staged role-play. Upon hearing the voices, one cannot help but reflect on the insults launched at contemporary artists who have arrived at ideas that are not accepted within the art world today.
–Laura Blereau From the exhibition catalog Staring Back, On Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon
(In order of appearance)
Alice Derain, Georges Braque…………………………………………………….Alison Nobile Class of 2015
Matisse communicated by Roland Penrose……..………………………..DJ Hellerman, Curator, Burlington City Arts
Gelett Burgess…………………………………………………………………………Major Jackson, Professor, Department of English
Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler……………………..…………………………………..David V. Rosowsky, Provost and Vice President
Gertrude Stein…………………………………………………………………………Barbara Zucker, Professor Emeritus, Dept. of Art
André Derain……………………………………………………………………………Angela Patton, Senior Lecturer, Department of English
2014 | Your Attention Please! Ignore This Message
“Continuity seems lacking in a wold full of separately conceived physical entities all competing for space and attention, all without concern for what is nearby, and masked by portals, links, and signs to someplace else.”
Malcolm McCullough, Ambient Commons
Your Attention Please! Ignore this Message is a reflection on how our sensory field often refers to someplace else; it considers the role of sounds, particularly cell phone sounds, in the ambient commons.
In 2014, smartphone sound notifications often always sounded the same, depending on the make of your phone. We commonly asked each other, “Is that you or me?” when we could not decipher whose cell phone was ringing. Messages not intended for us demanded our attention.
Exhibited as part of Break It! Build It! Curated by DJ Hellerman Burlington City Arts Gallery, July 25, 2014 – September 13, 2014
2013 | The Firehouse Bell Project
The Firehouse Bell Project was included in the exhibition User Required at Burlington City Arts Center, Burlington, VT, 2013. Curated by DJ Hellerman.
The Firehouse Bell Project posed two questions:
Should the Firehouse Bell ring again?
If so, why should it ring?
Selected Participant Responses:
It should ring according to the moon cycle.
Ring the bell on the morning of a voting day as a reminder to vote!
When there is an art opening, ring the bell.
The bell should ring every time someone gives any amount of money to the homeless.
Ring the bell every time an animal is adopted from the Chittenden County Humane Society.
Have water mist around the bell and ring it when the sun is in position to make a rainbow.
It should warn if zombies attack, have regular Zombie drills (Once a month @ random).
It should ring again so that people do not forget what a real bell sounds like.
It should be replaced with a bubble machine.
Just ring the damn bell!
2010 | Scoring the Streets of New Orleans
On New Year’s Eve 2004 I recorded while walking through the French Quarter and down Bourbon Street. The recording captured street music, music from bars and restaurants, and the boisterous crowds. The evening was welcoming in a year no one could have anticipated; in August 2005 Hurricane Katrina had a devastating impact on city of New Orleans, the surrounding region and those who lived there. It was a tragedy for the country as a whole.
For the exhibition Ethnographic Terminalia New Orleans I revisited the 2004 recording, turning it into digital data (midi) and then feeding the analog recording back through it. The result is a composition of disparate audio fragments and unaligned time.
Fragments of song float from street corners and weave throughout the open-air bars and restaurants that line Bourbon Street. For the passerby, pieces of numerous songs are threaded into one melody. Time signature is determined by the walker’s gate, notes by the chance encounters with the sound events of the place, points on a map.
DuMois Gallery, New Orleans November 11 – December 3, 2010
About Ethnographic Terminalia:
Crossing and erasing the boundaries between art and anthropology, the installations organized by the Ethnographic Terminalia curatorial collective evoke both the social instability and the sense of possibility embodied in the present historical moment. Constructing a bricolage of aesthetic and scientific viewpoints while instigating public art interventionsgrounded in critical social inquiry, this wide-ranging group of artists, anthropologists, and curators is creatinga series of mobile, transnational multimedia environments which are equally global and local, virtual, and site-specific.
Thomas Ross Miller, Ethnographic Termini: Of Moments and Metaphors, Visual Anthropology Review, 2011.
2010 | Sounds of a Stone Home
Sounds of Stone Home was a site-specific sound installationthat explored the comings and goings of the creatures, people and things who have inhabited the stonequarries at Millstone Hill in Barre Town, Vermont.
Installed as part of the group exhibition On the Planet On location at the stone quarries at Millstone Hill in Barre Town, Vermont.
Presented by Studio Place Arts. Wednesday, September 1, 2010: 5:00 – 6:30 pm Sunday, September 5, 2010: 3:00 – 5:30 pm
2015 | Place Ravignan and Picasso at Montmartre
Place Ravignan and Picasso at Montmartre were included in the exhibition Staring Back: The Creation and Legacy of Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon. Curated by Janie Cohen and on view at the Fleming Museum of Art, Burlington, VT, February 3 – June 21, 2015
In the process of creating these works, Karson staged and produced recordings, and also captured existing sounds online, using sites such as Google, Sounddogs, Wikipedia, and You Tube. Her vision is achieved through a broad sense of perspective, and executed in a manner similar to movie directors working with actors, editors, and sound effects. Karson’s handling of sound is also influenced by the tradition of musique concrete, which relies on the apparatus of reproduction, as well as incorporating generative compositional techniques using live software playback.
Located at the exhibition’s entrance, Place Ravignan features an audio collage housed by a vintage Cygnet horn from the Edison Fireside Phonograph. Appearing worn and weathered, this sculpture plays with our expectations of early 20th-century artifacts and the simulated presence transmitted by an audio recording. The piece depicts the physical environment that birthed Cubism and served as home to a number of luminaries of the Modernist art and literary movements. It crafts a soundscape that evokes the surroundings of Le Bateau Lavoir, Picasso’s studio in 1907, where Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was painted.
Place Ravignan imagines a walk from Picasso’s studio through the bohemian neighborhood of Montmartre. The composition is named after a small cobblestone square that faces Le Bateau Lavoir and it maps out a narrative based on incidental noises, or “found” sounds. The building was known for its dark, drafty interior and creaky floorboards, so much so that it was nicknamed for the laundry boats anchored in the Seine. In Karson’s collage we hear the warm crackling of a coal stove, cries from Minou (Picasso’s cat), steps in the hallway, a knock at the door, and the bells of Sacre-Coeur Basilica. Trotting horses and the roar of early motorcars are detected, as we mentally travel past Le Chat Nair and famed cafes, filled with lively chatter. A distorted mix of Erik Satie’s music floats through the neighborhood, punctuated by the restless murmurs of pigeons. Clinking wine glasses and dishes are heard, while a crowd’s laughter and banter intensifies.
As a vessel, the sound sculpture evokes composers such as John Cage, Annea Lockwood, and Stephen Vitiello, as it transports viewers from an interior space, inside Picasso’s studio, to that of the public and outdoors-essentially a space of social engagement. Karson’s idea of place in this work is based on a virtual and idealized site that is informed by historical and contemporary research. In this process, she consulted Google maps, a 1900 edition of the travel book Baedeker’s Paris and its Environs, and Loving Picasso-the journal of Fernande Olivier. Picasso’s mistress between 1904 and1911, Olivier is a recognizable figure from his Blue Period, Rose Period, and African Period , as well as in his Cubist work.
Laura Blereau From the exhibition catalog Staring Back, On Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon Fleming Museum of Art, Burlington, VT
Jenn Karson and Coberlin Brownell, two Burlington-area tech gurus with backgrounds in art, engineered the technology for Staring Back. Karson focused on sound art while earning her MFA in design and technology at the San Francisco Art Institute; she now teaches in the University of Vermont’s engineering college. For the street soundscape, she researched turn-of-the-century Parisian guidebooks, among numerous sources, then layered sounds of cathedral bells, a passing horse and cart, a cooing dove, the clink of tableware, bits of French conversation and other clips. The whole is broadcast from behind a wall-mounted 1907 Edison phonograph horn, which Karson found for the exhibit.
Amy Lilly, Art New England, May/June 2015
Place Ravignon Jenn Karson, 2015 Found sounds, foley, created with Max/MSP Edison Horn, ca. 1907, collection of Jenn Karson and Ken Mills Thanks to the University of Vermont Fab Lab
Picasso at Montmartre
(3) Picasso at Montmartre
Picasso is seen here in the cobblestone square (Place Ravignan) just outside facing his studio, a few years before he would paint Les Demoiselles. The dilapidated studio building was known as the Bateau-Lavoir, or the washing boat, a name coined by Max Jacob, a writer and friend of the artist. Standing high on the hill of Montmartre, it swayed and creaked in high winds and rain, reminding its inhabitants of the laundry boats moored in the nearby River Seine.
Beside the horn, the tech gurus created a video installation. Brownell focused on augmented reality while earning his MFA in emergent media at Champlain College in Burlington, where he now teaches. The video begins with the iconic photo of a 23-year-old Picasso standing in the square outside the dilapidated Bateau-Lavoir, which housed his studio. Slowly, the image fades to a black-and-white video collage of Karson’s engineering student impersonating Picasso against the same background, smiling knowingly.
Like the hypersonic sound installation in the next room (The Picture Was an Outrage)—where the comments are read not by actors but by locally known curators, artists and other community members—the video component is intended to “make the piece really active for the campus and broader community,” says Karson. At the same time, the team wanted the immersion experience to “avoid nostalgia.” Karson adds, “The dissonance of having that student there…it’s so true. We’re bringing ourselves to that other time period, but we’re not there.”
– Amy Lilly, Art New England, May/June 2015
Picasso at Montmartre Video installation Coberlin Brownell and Jenn Karson, 2015 Photo: Pablo Picasso at Montmartre, Place Ravignon, ca. 1904
Special thanks to Andrew Giroux ’15 and Alan Mosser of the UVM Theater Department.
Staring Back: The Creation and Legacy of Picasso’s Desmoiselles d’Avignon February 3 – June 21, 2015 Fleming Museum of Art University of Vermont, Burlington VT