Matts Gallery

'Three songs – The Devil is Afraid of Music, What have they done to my song, Ma and How does it Feel to Feel? – were performed and filmed in the exhibition space of Matt’s Gallery, creating an open recording session and film set for three days. Through the subsequent editing process, the recorded material is subjected to radical temporal shifts through the use of overlays, speeding up, slowing down and repetition. This manipulation creates a series of rhythms, counterpoints and silences and explores the construction of song and narrative expectation, forming a drama (or crisis) of performance. The songs themselves are at stake, their survival questioned through these processes of translation.’ (Matts Gallery)

In Chapter 2 of ‘The Inoperative Community’ Jean Luc Nancy defines myth as a group of people gathered together to hear the same story or myth. These people, whoever they are, are brought together in, and defined by, the moment of story telling. In this way, the telling of and listening to myth (or ‘mything’ to use Nancy’s phrase) binds together those who are present in a common – mythical – purpose. Importantly, the scene of telling, showing and revealing of the myth is also mythic. Analogising myth to Curran’s first London solo show ‘Look What They Done To My Song’ at Matts Gallery is not mere writerly whim. The clues are in the exhibition. Myth links together what is actually happening in the combined booklet, CD, installation and film that makes up ‘Look What They Done To My Song’.

Inside Matts Gallery is an unmanned microphone resting on a stage, abandoned recording equipment and unplugged headphones. Partial song lyrics, fan paraphernalia and detailed event memos are stuck to two large pin boards. There is no sound. Various mythological characters, including a Cenataur- half man half horse – are painted directly onto the walls as leitmotif throughout the installation. Outside in the foyer is a screening of a live recording session that was conducted in the installation. In it musicians can be seen and heard tuning instruments, singers sing, camera crews film. Clearly, something happened here in the gallery. However, it is clear from the displayed remnants of that past event, the scribbled lyrics, the memo’s, the film of the prior action and the distinctly abandoned feel of the installation that the object, focus and content of ‘Look What They Done To My Song’ is somewhere else, somewhere other than Matt’s Gallery.

The main focus of ‘Look What They Done To My Song’ is actually the three songs that have long since left the building, or are now out in the ether or on another frequency. That which remains in ‘Look What They Done To My Song’ represents only their traces; the space the songs were created in, the film that captured their making, the book that describes them, the CD that contains them. Combined, these elements are not, nor ever could be, the song, but that’s the point. Curran is creating something else in Look What They Done to My Song, something that carefully encircles the absent songs and their originary or primal scene; he is creating a myth. The myth is of the songs themselves, their sound, purpose and content, as well as their now lost or mythical past moment of performance. It is the subsequent act of creating, telling and revealing of this particular myth that the exhibition ‘Look What They Done To My Song’ embodies. Going back to Nancy’s definition of myth, it is also clear that as visitors to the exhibition, we are implicated in this myth making; our coming together at Matts Gallery with the common purpose to hear, see and know more about Look What They Done To My Song is also mythical.

‘Look What They Done To My Song’ is a highly self-reflexive exhibition; both its object and subject (the songs and their myth) are simultaneously about myth and are mythical. The installation performs the myth surrounding the songs by framing their absence; the missed moment of the songs’ creation, the lack of sound, the huge gaps in the narrative as to what happened to the songs in the editing process, moreover why they were edited. ‘Look What They Done To My Song’ also uses the songs as myth to infect, transmit or power its mythical message; the song and its story is re-told on every CD, witnessed in each tour venue. The texts in the exhibition booklet, and of course my writing here, also play a part in performing that myth.

Having visited Matts Gallery and subsequently gone home to listen to the CD and read the booklet, I’m still not sure exactly what the content of Curran’s message is. Its clear these songs and the myth that surrounds them are supposed to live on, temporally, materially and performatively; to be ‘live’ as both song and myth in order to do something but, to my ears at least, their message is truly subliminal. Perhaps this is too critical. Nancy defines Myth as tautegorical, meaning that it says nothing other than itself or is self asserting. Mything, then, is a speech act with which ‘Look What They Done To My Song’ doesn’t describe or interpret but simultaneously does or ‘communicates itself’. The exhibitions’ focus isn’t the content or ‘truth’ of its message but the act of telling or communicating it; its music is in the making, the process of encircling or ‘coming to’ its particular content: its myth. The lack of clarity or classification, the messy gaps or ‘crisis’ of narrative and performance the work manifests are where the exhibition thrives. In this sense Look What They Done To My Song represents an artistic hybrid and potentially misunderstood liminal being; an impossible, uncanny – and wise – mythical character trapped in a moment of transformation, much like the Cenataur himself.

References ‘The Inoperative Community’, Jean Luc Nancy, 1991, University of Minnesota Press

Look What They Done To My Song’ is accompanied by a free publication, the 14th in the second series of Matt's Gallery booklets and includes a CD of the performances.

The film ‘Look What They Done to My Song’ will tour to the Arnolfini, Bristol from 17 September 2007 to 6 January 2008