The Museum of Rhythm

Museum Sztuki, Łódź, Poland

We can find rhythm in everything: a heartbeat, a flower or a churning factory. ‘The Museum of Rhythm’, curated by Natasha Ginwala and Daniel Muzyczuk, sites rhythm as the defining feature of modern life. A pan-historical gambol through art, composition and research, the exhibition expands on the project Ginwala created for the 2012 Taipei Biennial. This wasn’t another woolly ‘music and art’ show, nor an illustration of the ways pattern and pace inform our lives. Rather, it was an attempt to use rhythm to reread the recent past: revealing history’s seething underbelly, or wiggling backside.

In the first of 12 densely arranged rooms, a seismograph, phonograph, metronome and clock-card machine sit on plinths. These clunky, antique devices set out one aspect of the show: rhythm’s relationship to measurement and recording, regulation and capture. The objects also echo a documentary impulse found elsewhere in the exhibition. Alain Resnais’s Le chant du Styrène (The Song of Styrene, 1958) is a romantic documentary ode to the factory production of plastics. The recordings of ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax, beginning with ‘Negro Prison Songs’ (1958) and videos of dances from around the world, surfaces in several rooms. While Resnais’s and Lomax’s documents have a sensory allure, the cylinders that hold voices on the phonograph remind us that they do that through segmentation and isolation. Here’s the paradox pointed to by the ‘Museum of Rhythm’: museums rely on persistent illusions to make things sensible, comprehensible and visible.

_y6b0329.jpg

‘The Museum of Rhythm’, exhibition view. Courtesy: Muzeum Sztuki, Łódź; photograph: Piotr Tomczyk

‘The Museum of Rhythm’, exhibition view. Courtesy: Muzeum Sztuki, Łódź; photograph: Piotr Tomczyk

Several books by late-19th-century theosophists are included within the show. For these mystical dabblers, rhythm was key to new spiritual vistas, which could be reached by merging patterns of colour, music and choreography. It’s a belief that led to Rudolf Steiner’s eurythmy dance therapy, among others. The exhibition is animated by the same synesthetic impulse, and rhythm’s infectious, analogous proximity to other media. ‘Calligraphy comes from architecture, architecture from harmony,’ states a narrator on a record playing in one room – Music for Words: Lessons and Rhythms for Typing (1959), released by typewriter company Olivetti. Lining several walls are collaged graphic scores by Gerhard Rühm, an image of charred feet interrupting a musical score in Lasst sie der prufung fruchte sehen (Grant that They Bear the Trial Bravely, 1993), and Samson Young’s drawing series ‘To Fanon (out of the water, out of itself)’ (2016) that attempt to illustrate sound. Years after the theosophists earlier in the show, Simone Forti’s notes on ‘dancing the news’ show how the urge to merge the senses never left – it just perhaps ditched religious rhetoric.

In ‘The Museum of Rhythm’, you can bounce from Hans Richter’s solemn rhythm studies on film from the 1920s to the joyous rock percussion of Jean Rouch’s documentary Batteries Dogon (Dogon Drums, 1966). A series of drawings depicting opium production is installed to contrast with Ericka Beckman’s short film Tension Building (2014), which makes a raucous animation from the stern weight of stadium architecture. Less essential is a notebook by Hanne Darboven, with its inevitable, obsessive markings, and a drawing by Suzanne Treister, which maps the history of computer technology – both seemingly token inclusions. 

_y6b0180.jpg

‘The Museum of Rhythm’, exhibition view. Courtesy: Muzeum Sztuki, Łódź; photograph: Piotr Tomczyk

‘The Museum of Rhythm’, exhibition view. Courtesy: Muzeum Sztuki, Łódź; photograph: Piotr Tomczyk

The show’s lesser-known highlights include Åke Hodell’s buzzing soundtracked collages, 220 Volt Buddha (1971) as well as the stoned and impassioned verses intoned by Los Angeles poets in Barbara McCullough’s documentary Shopping Bag Spirits
and Freeway Fetishes
(1979). Exoticist urges of anthropological method hang somewhat over the show, turning its potential critique of modernity into a formalized, universalising museum of set knowledge of the past. Rhythm can’t be contained by the concept of the museum; regardless of attempts to categorize its messy excess, its vibrations spill out. But, in forgotten corners and chance connections, parts of ‘The Museum of Rhythm’ elicit that, while we might not be able to rewind history, we can shake it off, remix it and make of it an entirely new rhythm ourselves.

Chris Fite-Wassilak is a writer who lives in London.

Issue 187

First published in Issue 187

May 2017

Most Read

The punk artists’s invasion of the pitch during the Croatia vs. France match reminded us what Russia’s new ‘normality’...
In further news: Brexit voters avoid arts; New York libraries’s culture pass unlocks museums; Grayson Perry-backed...
If artificial intelligence were ever to achieve sentience, could it feasibly produce art? (And would it be good?)
The punk activist-artists have been charged with disruption after they charged the field during the France vs Croatia...
27 educators are taking the London gallery to an employment tribunal, demanding that they be recognized as employees
In further news: Glasgow School of Art to be rebuilt; Philadelphia Museum of Art gets a Frank Gehry-designed restaurant
Highlights from Condo New York 2018 and Commonwealth and Council at 47 Canal: the summer shows to see
Knussen’s music laid out each component as ‘precarious, vulnerable, exposed’ – and his conducting similarly worked from...
Nods to the game in World Cup celebrations show how dance has gone viral – but unwittingly instrumentalized for...
‘You can’t reason with him but you can ridicule him’ – lightweight as it is, Trump Baby is a win for art as a...
Anderson and partner Juman Malouf are sorting through the treasures of the celebrated Kunsthistorisches Museum for...
From Capote to Basquiat, the pop artist’s glittering ‘visual diary’ of the last years of his life is seen for the first...
‘When I opened Monika Sprüth Galerie, only very few German gallerists represented women artists’
Can a ragtag cluster of artists, curators and critics really push back against our ‘bare’ art world?
In further news: German government buys Giambologna at the eleventh hour; LACMA’s new expansion delayed
Gucci and Frieze present film number two in the Second Summer of Love series, focusing on the history of acid house
Judges described the gallery’s GBP£20 million redevelopment by Jamie Fobert Architects as ‘deeply intelligent’ and a ‘...
Is the lack of social mobility in the arts due to a self-congratulatory conviction that the sector represents the...
The controversial intellectual suggests art would be better done at home – she should be careful what she wishes for
Previously unheard music on Both Directions At Once includes blues as imposing as the saxophonist would ever record
In further news: Macron reconsiders artist residencies; British Council accused of censorship; V&A to host largest...
In our devotion to computation and its predictive capabilities are we rushing blindly towards our own demise?
Arts subjects are increasingly marginalized in the UK curriculum – but the controversial intellectual suggests art is...
An exhibition of performances at Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw, unfolds the rituals of sexual encounters
An art historian explains what the Carters’s takeover of the Paris museum says about art, race and power
Artist Andrea Fraser’s 2016 in Museums, Money and Politics lifts the lid on US museum board members and...
The Ruhrtriennale arts festival disinvited the Scottish hip-hop trio for their pro-Palestinian politics, then u-turned
The Baltimore’s director on why correcting the art historical canon is not only right but urgent for museums to remain...
Serpentine swimmers complain about Christo’s floating pyramid; and Hermitage’s psychic cat is a World Cup oracle: the...
The largest mural in Europe by the artist has been hidden for 30 years in an old storage depot – until now
Alumni Martin Boyce, Karla Black, Duncan Campbell and Ciara Phillips on the past and future of Charles Rennie...
In further news: po-mo architecture in the UK gets heritage status; Kassel to buy Olu Oguibe’s monument to refugees
The frieze columnist's first novel is an homage to, and embodiment of, the late, great Kathy Acker
60 years after the celebrated Brutalist architect fell foul of local authorities, a Berlin Unité d’Habitation apartment...
The British artist and Turner Prize winner is taking on the gun advocacy group at a time of renewed debate around arms...
The central thrust of the exhibition positions Sicily as the fulcrum of geopolitical conflicts over migration, trade,...
The Carters’s museum takeover powers through art history’s greatest hits – with a serious message about how the canon...
The 20-metre-high Mastaba finally realizes the artist and his late wife Jeanne-Claude’s design
‘What is being exhibited at Manifesta, above all, is Palermo itself’
With the 12th edition of the itinerant European biennial opening in Palermo, what do local artists, curators and...
In the age of Brexit, why Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to return the ‘stolen’ Parthenon marbles has never been...
The curators seem set to ask, ‘how civilized is the world’s current state of affairs?’
US true crime series Unsolved takes two formative pop cultural events to explore their concealed human stories and...

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018