Exhibition: To Do performed as a musical score

Clarinetist Megan Clune ‘played’ Exhibition: To Do, 2014, on the last day of its exhibition at The Commercial gallery, Sydney. Exhibition: To Do can be played as a musical score given it is, ostensibly, a composition of spacial measures not unlike beats in a bar.

The measured beats in Exhibition: To Do are punctuated by wooden uprights that separate each storage space.

The uprights act much like bars in musical notation that contain within them a group of counts.

Here, though, rather than a time signature such as 3/4 determining a consistent measure throughout, the number of beats is instead determined by the actual measurement of space of each shelf. In this way, each bar separates a physical space played as a musical note.

The pitch of the note is not determined—just its timing.

While this might sound random, it isn’t. The width, breadth and depth of the shelves that comprise Exhibition: To Do are measured in multiples of 18.

For instance, 103 lots of 18 equals the height of Exhibition: To Do at 1854mm; whereas 125 lots of 18 equals its breadth at 2250mm.

Eighteen millimetres is the thickness of plywood used to build the shelves.(1)See artists’ notes in the art index listing for Exhibition: To Do for more in-depth details on this.

Accordingly, each wooden upright—or bar—is 18mm and the space between two bars is a multiple of 18. The multiple is, as a result, the count for which one holds the note. If the space between two bars is four lots of 18 (i.e. 4 x 18 = 72mm), then the note is held for four counts while the bar, itself, is held as a pause of one count.

Starting from the left of the West wall, Megan progressively read the count of space between bars, clockwise, then moved on to the next storage unit until the outside and inside of Exhibition: To Do had been entirely played.

Exhibition To Do13Exhibition: To Do, in being a composition of space, is also a ‘To Do’ list compiled to complete an exhibition of art. The last of five items on the list reads: ‘Build racks in which to store the art after the exhibition’.

Any artist preparing for an exhibition would find this last item self-defeating. To include the list item means, in short, one little expects a strong enough response to the work.

The list item suggests preparations to care for the art, no matter its reception. Art may have to undergo a storage shelf’s deep sleep to survive the duration a public takes to wake to it.

In reality, though, artists can ill afford perpetuity’s storage and are unlikely to include it as a preparatory action in the process of making art. To do otherwise can’t help but promote a lack of the art’s reception as a fait accompli.

In Exhibition: To Do, the list item ‘Make the art for an upcoming exhibition’ is not ticked, it remains undone. Exhibition: To Do exists as an awaiting space for art yet to be made; a placeholder for art’s promise—its assurance, its declaration, its belief.

It is the same promise that can overwhelm art students as they forge against preconceptions and shed security to make art. The promise of art drives, it directs; it gets an artist out of bed and into the studio when there is no money with which to eat and pay the rent. It is the same promise against which a student’s resulting artwork is compared and often found to be lacking—where the plans for art hold more potential than their manifested, material reality. Every artist is forever art’s student.

Rather than a tool used with which to make art; in Exhibition: To Do art’s promise is the ‘thing’—the object—exhibited on the shelves.

Usually negated as a nothing of art, it was with extraordinary relief that I heard this promise bellow—its lament, its protest, its resistance, its resolve—when Megan Clune’s clarinet sounded it as a breath-filled, wood-tunnelled number of counts.