The Musical Years: 1920–2020

Austin Henderson
VOX, centre de l’image contemporaine, Montréal Curated by Marie J. Jean August 18 — October 31, 2020
The Musical Years: 1920 – 2020, exhibitions views,
VOX, centre de l’image contemporaine, Montréal, 2020.
VOX, centre de l’image contemporaine, Montréal Curated by Marie J. Jean August 18 — October 31, 2020
At a moment when going to the movies is difficult or altogether impossible, The Musical Years: 1920–2020 at VOX, centre de l’image contemporaine in Montréal offers a unique glimpse into the art of experimental filmmaking. With their perpetual flickering of light and colour, the gallery’s exhibi-tion spaces emulate a movie theatre dedicated to exploring the relationship between image and sound. When the terms “musical” and “cinema” are presented together, one might think of the dazzling extravaganzas produced by the wizards of Hollywood during the so-called Golden Age of American filmmaking, but that is not the focus of this exhibition. Rather, The Musical Years showcases innovations in audio-visual production, making it possible for viewers to trace the evolution of music’s relationship to moving images, and vice versa. To do this, a broad selection of films produced over the last century are displayed alongside contemporary installations that rethink the tangled histories of cinema and sound. The exhibition centralizes the role of the experimental filmmaker, featuring historical works by Ralph Steiner (1899 – 1986), Oskar Fischinger (1900 – 1967), and René Jodoin (1920 – 2015), as well as recent examples by Martin Arnold and Michaela Grill.

Throughout the gallery-turned-screening room, headphones are required to focus on each work’s fundamental musical accompaniment. Given the thesis of The Musical Years, this is a wise curatorial decision. Upon entering the exhibition, rapidly flashing colours of Jodoin’s animation Rectangle et rectangles (1984) emit from the first of many screens. The first gallery is separated with dividing walls, each one presenting a different experimental film by the pioneers of the field. The relative openness of the space allows viewers to interact with the films in ways that a conventional theatre would not. For example, multiple projections may be watched simultaneously, prompting a comparative reading of the works. When removing headphones in this gallery, the sonic elements of the exhibition are silenced. As a result, the viewer is confronted with a dissonant flurry of moving images devoid of any soundtrack, demonstrating the absolute necessity of sound in the exhibition.

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This article also appears in the issue 101 - New Materialisms
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