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The minds behind Room for Mystics

December 5th, 2017

Image courtesy of the AGO.

The weather is getting colder, errands are piling up with the holidays approaching and let’s be honest—it’s been a long year. But inside the AGO is a room vibrating with positive vibes. Go inside and it’s impossible to feel down, stressed or worried.

Sandra Meigs: Room for Mystics (with Christopher Butterfield) opened at the AGO in October and runs until January 14, 2018. The show was called “joyous” and “the art museum equivalent of a warm blanket” in the Toronto Star.

As the winner of the 2015 Gershon Iskowitz Prize, Sandra Meigs took the opportunity of being given her own exhibition at the AGO to invite a collaborator to work with her, the Victoria, B.C.-based composer Christopher Butterfield. His contributions are heard through cleverly disguised speakers placed among Sandra’s paintings, which are mounted on easels throughout the exhibit space, leaving room for a bright and cheerful wall treatment. And of course, there’s also the brass trio that performs Christopher’s compositions every day at 11:30 am.

We spoke to these artists about the process of collaboration on Room for Mystics—which was as positive as the room itself.

AGO: Sandra, what was your intention with Room for Mystics? And how was music conceived as part of that vision?

Sandra: I wanted to create a joyful room full of good vibrations that would raise the energy of the space and communicate with the universe. In order to achieve that, I knew that the work would have to be immersive, in the sense that people would forget they were looking at art, and just take a pause to experience the moment. Music and sound is a great vehicle for that feeling. The paintings are all highly charged with intense colours and forms and the music brings that to an even higher level.

Image courtesy of the AGO.

AGO: Christopher, what made you the right partner for this project?

Christopher: I have a great interest in work that appeals to more than one sense; I’m interested in the combination of stimuli which, with luck, creates a unique result that’s more than the sum of the parts.

AGO: Sandra, what had you and Christopher collaborated on previously?

Sandra: I had seen some works by Christopher—Pavilion of Heavenly Trousers (2004), Convoy PQ17 (2002), and many concert works. Christopher and I taught a studio class together at the University of Victoria from 2008 to 2012, integrating performance, sound, sculpture, painting and drawing. In 2009, Christopher invited me to a performance of Contes Pour Enfants Pas Sages at The Music Gallery in Toronto, with the idea to collaborate by creating storyboard drawings for the projection of the surtitles. I then made the images for projections that were used in the future productions of the piece. I also consulted Christopher on sounds that I integrated into some of my works. The Bones in Golden Robes, for example, used aluminum pie tins, buckshot and plastic ashtrays, as per his suggestions, for noisemakers inside moving figures.

AGO: Christopher, what was your process for composing the music used in Room for Mystics?

Christopher: It evolved in the best and most organic way, through discussions with Sandra about live sound, recorded sound, the acoustic characteristics of art galleries, the expectations of an audience accustomed to experiencing visual art, how to make the sound equipment visually interesting as well as being unnoticeable as sound sources… Other than that, the sound is based on the resonant frequency of the gallery space, 23.125 Hz, or ±F#. The material the brass trio plays is a very rapid version of the slow changes of the recorded sound.

AGO: What do you both enjoy about the collaboration between visual art and music?

Sandra: For both of us, it was wonderful to work in parallel fashion on Room for Mystics, where we each had our own autonomy within the work, but worked side by side in a big studio during the summers. We shared student assistants, who constructed the speaker boxes and the mobile. Having each other and others around was a wonderful way to feel connected through the work. Christopher brought many of his composer friends through the studio and I brought many of my art friends through. We both referred to the scale model often and would discuss the final vision always leaving room for autonomy in our respective divisions of labour.

Image courtesy of the AGO.

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