A new work draws inspiration from the dialogue between Rauschenberg and Cage
Pianist Annie Yim reflects on the cross-art form collaboration that lies behind Conceptual Concert in Three Acts, inspired by the art and life of the influential American post-war artist Robert Rauschenberg and composer John Cage, taking place at the Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, as part of its current exhibitions of Rauschenberg’s Spreads 1975-83, and Cage’s Ryoanji.
As Leonard Bernstein aptly put it, ‘the best way to know a thing is in the context of another discipline’. It was in this spirit that I created MusicArt in 2015, which came from my desire to explore the inspiration and aesthetics at work within creative artists – be they in the visual arts, poetry, and dance – and from my endless curiosity to understand my own art form through the lens of others. It also resonates with me on a more personal level as a cross-cultural citizen – my Chinese heritage intertwined with western cultures as a Canadian and long-time Londoner.
I think of these collaborations across art forms as being like chamber music. At its heart chamber music is about having dialogues, listening to different voices, and making music together. In the new work that forms part of what I call a concert-installation in Conceptual Concert in Three Acts, multifaceted dialogues are interwoven with John Cage’s music and his mind-opening spoken words.
This concert-installation is not unlike Rauschenberg’s painting-sculptures, famously known as Combines. By incorporating and juxtaposing into musical performance original music by Raymond Yiu, specially written poems by Kayo Chingonyi and an audio and visual installation, a new organic whole emerges. It is an exhilarating creative process to integrate these disparate elements. Raymond, Kayo and I started creating the new piece by having conversations, discussing motifs and methods that inspire each of us, as well as how the piece could interact with these large-scale works of Rauschenberg and the early piano works of John Cage – The Seasons, Winter Music, and 4’33”. It is especially important for the piece to take place within the gallery space, making the whole performance a multi-dimensional work, a concert-installation.
There are many historical examples of cross-disciplinary influences, such as Kandinsky and Schoenberg, who encouraged each other to break new ground in their own art form through conversations. The avant-garde circle of artists at Black Mountain College in the 1950s, including Rauschenberg and Cage, deeply influenced one another through close collaborations. The dialogues I have had with my collaborators (who all love music, of course) have expanded my own horizons as a musician and pianist.
Another important element in these projects is working collaboratively with composers and to explore other art forms together with them. For me, it is inspiring to make connections with contemporary artists from different disciplines and see how music plays a role in bringing us together. Music is indeed at the heart of each of these artist-led collaborations which result from a shared imagination and musical language, including harmony, rhythm, melody, counterpoint, and even silence. These elements are truly universal for many artists. For the launch of my first MusicArt Conceptual Concert in 2015, I was honoured to have collaborated with Christopher Le Brun, artist and President of the Royal Academy of Arts, alongside composer Richard Birchall who wrote a new piano piece in response to Le Brun’s painting. I premiered the piece within his gallery exhibition, alongside works by composers from the late 19th and early 20th century who have significantly influenced his work. He frequently referenced composers, musical terms or genres in the titles of his paintings: Scriabin, Symphony, Middle C, Note.
It is immeasurably enriching to incorporate the insights and perspectives on music into performance from a great artist. As much as I love performing a conventional programme at a concert hall, I feel energised to share different experiences with surprises for the audience. I look forward to continuing this balancing act.
Conceptual Concert in Three Acts takes place at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac on December 13 (sold out - though a later performance will be staged at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac Salzburg in April).