(Ed. note : the ‘Sensational Fix’ exhbition continues to hit galleries around the world — full scoop and visual hints of what to expect are below…cue up the press release machine!)
Most people probably know Sonic Youth (Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, and Steve Shelley) as an experimental guitar band, and to a lesser extent as the multidisciplinary cultural protagonists they have been ever since the collective surfaced in 1981. From day one, Sonic Youth has been exploring and mapping unknown cultural territories through their activities as a band and as four individual musicians, visual artists or cultural entrepreneurs, each member with his or her specific ties to and within the international cultural scene. Through collaborations with musicians, visual artists, filmmakers, fashion designers, writers and other equally creative spirits, Sonic Youth expanded their artistic potential, which by now 27 years later could be defined as a true Sonic Universe.
Before the Sonic Boom, in 1981, both Kim Gordon and Lee Ranaldo were trained as artists who upon arrival in New York City in the late 1970s started playing in bands rather than dedicating themselves fully to the production of visual art. This was the case with many of their artist friends as well, like Glenn Branca, Richard Prince or Robert Longo. The artist Dan Graham was a central figure in this constellation of visual artists/musicians, and was known to schlep his barely portable tape recorder to concerts of punk rock
and no wave bands to record these performances, which were often held in art galleries and so-called art lofts. Back then, visual art and experimental music seemed to be one and the same energy, and the natural crossover between the two, as was apparent in those days, laid the foundations for the
multidisciplinary activities of Sonic Youth.
Since the start, the band has been true to their attitude to be unorthodox and to do their own thing, and in their comprehensive output they continued and still continue to amalgamate punk rock’s rebellious posture and DIY attitude with experimental music and conceptual art, a production that in its range and complexity up until today remains unrivalled by that of any other band or artists’ collective.
Their album covers, inner sleeves and inlays have been the carriers of a multifaceted output of art by next to the band members themselves artists such as James Welling, Richard Kern, Dan Graham, Gerhard Richter,
Raymond Pettibon, Mike Kelley, William S. Burroughs, Savage Pencil, Richard Prince, Christopher Wool, and Jeff Wall, to mention a few. Many of Sonic Youth’s album covers are true collages in which material of a broad range of sources is freely put together, evoking relations between that what hardly had been imagined before to exist side by side in a single glance. This approach is triggered by the band’s curiosity about all sorts of subjects, such as beat poetry, avant-garde art and music, late 1970s punk rock, no wave, early 1980s hardcore, experimental noise, stardom, politics. Thurston Moore once defined these eclectic interests as follows: “There’s a fascination with those things, for sure, but hopefully none of those
things are central to what we’re doing. What we’re doing is always inventing itself. I have no terminology for it.”
The exhibition SONIC YOUTH etc. : SENSATIONAL FIX follows a similar collage technique as the band applies for their album covers. Through this multilayered collage we are able to uncover an alternative history of
contemporary culture, while the goal of this exhibition is not so much to give a complete overview of the history of the band and their collaborations, but rather to pinpoint several directions taken by the band,
while taking into account possible future collaborations, as the essence of Sonic Youth is that they constantly redefine their mission. Sonic Death inevitably followed their early credo Sonic Life, but what remains bouncing back and forth in this cycle is eternal renewal. And that’s Sonic Youth.
Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Germany, (31 January- 10 May 2009);
Malmö Konsthall, Sweden, (29 May 20- September 2009),
Centro Huarte de Arte Contemporáneo, Navarra/Nafarroa, Spain, (October 2009 – January 2010)