A sunny, cold Thursday afternoon, late December 2016, Charleroi, Province de Hainaut, Belgium. We have travelled to see the Metamorphic Earth exhibition by Gast Bouschet and Nadine Hilbert, with a music score by Stephen O’Malley, whose work in minimalist drone, and curation of the Ideologic Organ record label, I’ve followed closely for a decade or so1.
The location is the BPS22 gallery, a former University of Work industrial space. Metamorphic Earth is a monumental work, and truly immersive. You enter a large blacked out space with multiple 10m-scale projections on walls and floor. There is not a hint of colour anywhere. And then there is the O’Malley drone, completing the disorientating impact of the work. We are the only people here, and when eyes accustom to the gloom, we find bean bags and crash on the floor.
Immediate thoughts were of micro and macro spatial scales- swirls of particles, amorphous gas, half crescent moon (celestial), fibrous/filaments – primordial life, mobile gneiss/schist – metamorphic rocks in formation. Blending in and out – noir images of architecture and people, glass lifts ascending/descending. In brief moments of clarity we recognise the City of London (financial capital/capitol). And the constant layered, textured minimalist O’Malley dronescape – heavy yet ambient, an aural metaphor for time. I’ve no idea how long we laid there, but the looped images and sounds eventually started to become familiar. Initially unseen, an upper gallery space along the side of the main room exhibited smaller works, and a new perspective on the main space.
Earth processes and time are a key element in Boushcet and Hilbert’s work. In A Planet the artists present landscape photography after the 2011 Grimsvötn volcanic eruption. Their Black Phase photos were taken shortly after the eruption when ash covered the ice -the White Phase series were taken the following year after wind, water and snow had obscured the ash. Such practices are common in geomorphology, with earth scientists using repeat photos (and satellite imagery) to discover rates of change in earth surface processes, perhaps most importantly documenting glaciers receding in response to global warming.
“The metamorphic qualities of dance, sound and moving images in particular are capable of installing the state of fluidity that is necessary to produce visionary experiences and explore the potential to enact change. The flow of metamorphosis is permanently active in the natural world and runs through all things” (Bouschet & Hilbert exhibition notes).
1Stephen O’Malley came to prominence in the seminal drone metal band SunnO))). For their London Barbican debut at the Convergence Festival in March 2017 the programme notes state how SunnO))) had “…forged connections between the worlds of metal, drone, contemporary composition, jazz and minimalism with startling results…”. Since 2011 O’Malley has curated the Ideologic Organ imprint, in association with Peter Rehberg’s Editions Mego label, and has released a diverse range of music that includes the rudra veena maestro Zia Mohiuddin Dagar, sacred flute music from New Guinea, contemporary composer Iancu Dumitrescu, and the improvised, minimalist jazz of The Necks.