Unravelling Anri Sala

Thursday, July 13, 2017

As Kaldor Public Art Project 33 approaches, we’ll be spending the coming weeks sharing insights into Anri Sala’s fascinating practice and past artworks.

First exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2013, Ravel Ravel has fast become one of Sala’s most recognisable works. This impressive video work encapsulates his interest in musical performance and its ability to revisit a moment in time, while also generating new meaning in a contemporary context.

In Ravel Ravel the viewer enters an anechoic room with two videos played simultaneously, each featuring a different piano performance of Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D-major. In both videos the camera is so close to the performer that only the pianist’s left arm is visible: the screens are dominated by the playing hand and its movement across the keys. 

Two identical—but not quite synchronised—musical scores emanate from the performance of each pianist and an unseen accompanying orchestra. The effect is one of sensory overstimulation. The listener tries to make sense of the overlapping sound: its moments of synchronicity, and its periods of disjunction. Differences in the performers’ style and variations in tempo rise through the layers of music. 

Sala’s works are deeply concerned with a sense of place. Although Ravel Ravel was exhibited in the Venice Biennale’s French pavilion, the French pavilion was that year transplanted to the German pavilion, a venue that Ravel Ravel responds to in a subtle but deeply considered way. French composer Maurice Ravel was commissioned to compose the Piano Concerto for the Left Hand by Paul Wittgenstein, an Austrian pianist of Jewish descent whose right arm was amputated after an injury sustained fighting for the Germans in WWI. Wittgenstein fled to America before the Second World War, and built a career as a left-handed pianist, commissioning 17 piano concertos from leading composers of the day. 

Anri Sala, Unravel , 2013. Installation view: “Anri Sala: Answer Me,” New Museum. Courtesy Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris; Marian Goodman Gallery; Hauser & Wirth; and kurimanzutto, Mexico City. Photo: Maris Hutchinson / EPW Studio

Typical of Sala’s practice, Ravel Ravel does not stand alone, but was exhibited in Venice as part of a trio of works titled “Ravel Ravel Unravel.” In one of these companion works, DJ and music producer Chloé Thévenin attempts to unify the two interpretations of the Concerto featured in Ravel Ravel, by standing in the exhibition room and forcing the tracks into synchronicity using a pair of turntables. Thévenin’s efforts to line-up the deliberately divergent tracks are the subject of Sala’s video Unravel, exhibited in an adjacent room.

Watch Anri Sala speak about “Ravel Ravel Unravel” at the 2013 Venice Biennale here.

Learn more about Kaldor Public Art Project 33, Anri Sala's The Last Resort here.

Top Image: Anri Sala, Ravel Ravel, 2013. Installation view: “Anri Sala: Answer Me,” New Museum. Courtesy Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris; Marian Goodman Gallery; and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Maris Hutchinson / EPW Studio