John Cage at the Submarine Wharf on his 100th Anniversary
9 August 2012
2012 marks the centenary of the birth of the American composer John Cage. Cage is
an important source of inspiration for Sarkis, the artist who this summer made an
installation for the Submarine Wharf in Rotterdam’s docklands. Cage’s music plays
an important role in Sarkis’s exhibition ‘Ballads’, which runs until 30 September.
This summer the sounds of John Cage (1912-1992) fill the five thousand square metre
Submarine Wharf in Rotterdam’s docklands. A 43-bell carillon continuously performs the
composition ‘Litany for the Whale’ at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen’s summer venue.
The bell tower, made from eighteen tree trunks, is part of the exhibition ‘Ballads’ by Sarkis
(1938). Using large objects, coloured light and Cage’s music, the artist makes a notional link
between water and air. Each Sunday the carillon in the exhibition is played live, with a
selection of other works by the famous composer.
Cage at the Submarine Wharf
John Cage wrote the composition ‘Litany for the whale’ in 1980 for two singers, who in turn
imitate the call of a whale and sing the separate letters of the word ‘whale’. The notes in the
piece follow one another at a tranquil tempo. As so often happens in Cage’s compositions,
there are many moments of silence in the work, creating the illusion that the sounds are
coming from the depths of the sea. Sarkis chose this piece by Cage to connect with the
original use of the Submarine Wharf. Submarines were built in the shed in the first half of the
twentieth century; mechanical beings that look like whales and dive and resurface according
to the same principles. Through the medium of Cage’s music, Sarkis takes the visitor on an
imaginary trip to the bottom of the sea. To accompany ‘Ballads’, Sarkis is showing an
installation of watercolours based on Cage’s flute score Ryoanji (1983-85) in Museum
Boijmans Van Beuningen.
Sarkis regularly includes in his work dialogues with other artists such as painters, architects
and musicians. His fascination with music is manifest in the exhibition and he delights in
sharing his sources of inspiration with visitors. At a table of books and CDs you can listen to
jazz ballads by Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane and Louis Armstrong, as well as
music by Cage.
Live music on Sundays
Each Sunday carillon players Frank Steijns and Mathieu Polak play the carillon in the
exhibition. ‘Music for Carillon II’ by John Cage is being performed here for the first time on
bells, as Cage originally intended it. There are also regular concerts at which the carillon is
played together with piano. The museum is staging a children’s performance with a
puppeteer for the youngest visitors.
The Submarine Wharf is a unique partnership between the Port of Rotterdam and Museum
Boijmans Van Beuningen. For five consecutive summers it will be home to a specially-made
major installation by a prominent contemporary artist.
‘Ballads’ will be on view until 30 September 2012.
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