Hear No Evil: Sigur Rós’ Jónsi’s Debut Solo Exhibition is a Provocative Sensory Experience

Jónsi, Í blóma[In bloom], 2019 Photo by Jeff Mclan, Courtesy of the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles

 

 

If music is your religion, let Sigur Rós be your church.

The Icelandic band’s post-rock-orchestral-ethereal-angelic-atmospheric-avant-garde aesthetic has made them the world’s biggest cult phenomenon. Our devotion began with 1999’s  Ágætis byrjun, and they have rewarded that devotion with much sonic bliss.

Jónsi, the band’s enigmatic frontman, is continuously creating multiple entry points to experience their artistry beyond their seven studio albums and life-altering live performances. To wit, there was the interactive video installation with London’s Tate Modern in 2016, the 2018 co-launching of a new ambient album, Liminal Sleep, with popular mediation app Calm, the sound bath-meets-art installation at Neuehouse in Hollywood earlier this year…

 

 

Never mind collaborations with Doug Aitken, Olafur Eliasson, and Merce Cunningham, and his new project with Swedish composer Carl Michael von Hausswolf called Dark Morphin which the two chronicled and morphed their field recordings while aboard a research ship – and then performed it live at this year’s the Venice Biennale.

Now rising to new conceptual heights, on view at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery Los Angeles, Jónsi has installed a series of three new works inspired by the Romantic poet Goethe’s fifth Roman Elegy. Goethe made the connection between the experience of a lover’s body and a classical marble sculpture with the phrase “I see with a feeling eye, feel with a seeing hand.” In Jonsi’s interpretative remix of this profound expression, he gives it a sonic update, encouraging those who connect with it to “hear with a feeling ear, feel with a hearing hand.” For Jónsi, the constant has always been, “hearing is feeling is seeing is being.”

 

Jónsi, Hvítblinda [Whiteout], 2019, Photo by Jeff Mclane, Courtesy of the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles

 

In Hvítblinda [Whiteout], the most powerful of the three installations, it feels as if you’ve walked into a Zero G, Futurist, ozone scented, sound womb environment, under light arrangements that pay homage to the Los Angeles Light & Space movement of the 1960s. What makes this experience unique is the 12-channel sound system of ten invisible speakers and two subwoofers, radiating recordings of Jónsi’s other-worldly voice, combined with field recordings of natural elements.

While inside the space, it’s a full 360 degrees experience, where the walls and floors rumble and vibrate. Your shoes must be covered as to (respectively) not bring the outside world in, your speech silent as to not interfere with the enveloping “5-piece act of sonic manifestations” – and two stark white cubes invite you to sit or lay horizontal and fully submerged in the audio phenomena. If ever there was a temple of sound worship, this would be it.

 

Jónsi, Svartalda (Dark wave), 2019, Photo by Jeff Mclane, Courtesy of the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles

 

Inside Svartalda (Dark wave), you are deprived of all senses except your hearing, which can be quite shocking after absorbing all that light. There is a canopy of eight ceiling panels that move in tandem like waves while hyper-directional speakers, with diffuse recordings of Jónsi breathing, whispering and reciting an old Icelandic poem about the sea. As you move through the darkness, the sound of his voice moves with you, and once you adjust, the faint scent of seaweed appears, convincing you that possibly, maybe the ocean is nearby.

While the other two rooms activate a yin/yang sensory exploration, Í blóma [In bloom] triggers more of an intellectual dive. Here Jónsi created a sound-based sculpture of 14 horn speakers designed to resemble a foxglove flower – which is described as being both highly toxic and therapeutic at once, a pleasure/pain principle infused into the theory of the overall installation. The blooming sculpture is enhanced with a series of butt plugs that provide a visualization for the fertilizing organ of the flower.

Jónsi, Í blóma[In bloom], 2019 Photo by Jeff Mclan, Courtesy of the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles

 

Through the speaker sculpture, we again experience a take on Jónsi’s recorded voice, layered over field recordings of Icelandic birds and Foxglove flowers, with a hi-tech recording device used capture the electric impulse of the flowers’ petals and stems. He then translated the electric frequency into a hyper-rare composition. There is a peculiar scent in this room, which is described as “a combination of dead animals and sperm – meant to evoke associations with bodily decay and pleasures.” The artistic goal was to create a sonic mating call between artist and flowers, to invoke notions of pleasure/pain while offering concepts of cross-species communications.

In the overall, with this first solo exhibition, it appears Jónsi’s intentions were to create spaces that evoke the power of sound and feeling, three mini portals for humans to step into and away from outside world uncertainty, and reconnect with themselves and with something possibly higher.

 

Jónsi’s eponymous exhibition is on view at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery Los Angeles through January 9, 2020.

 

Jónsi, Hvítblinda [Whiteout], 2019, Photo by Jeff Mclane, Courtesy of the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles