Blog: Lee Clark

The York Art Gallery worker on working with the Kaiser Chiefs on a new exhibition

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It was a simple idea that grew.

I have always liked exhibitions that look at art from a completely different perspective. One of my favourite at York Art Gallery was one curated by bestselling author Tracy Chevalier. She took works from our collection and wrote stories about a number of them. In a touch of genius, visitors could also leave their thoughts next to the paintings on the walls painted with blackboard paint.

I wanted to do something like this again. So I had the idea of inviting a world famous pop band to come and delve into our stores and archives, have a chat and see what they found of interest.

Being one of Yorkshire’s most famous bands who have sold millions of albums worldwide, Kaiser Chiefs were our first choice. Thankfully the idea struck a chord.

My initial suggestion was simple – pick a painting and then pick a song or piece of music to go with it. I had always been interested in how music can create pictures in your mind – sometimes instinctively, sometimes subconsciously. Sometimes it is a certain moment in your life, but it can also be a certain colour or pattern.

The band liked the idea but felt it needed a little work. So Simon Rix and Vijay Mistry went away and somehow, in between writing and recording a seventh album, playing gigs as far away as Hong Kong, announcing a tour and promoting playing Leeds United’s Elland Road for a second time, they came back with something much bigger, better and more interesting than we could have ever imagined.

And so, after a lot of thinking, looking, listening, planning, borrowing, researching and doing – the odd bit of sweating but no tears, I don’t think – When All is Quiet: Kaiser Chiefs in Conversation with York Art Gallery was born.

So which direction did the band take the idea? Simon explains it best.

“When York Art gallery approached us as a band to work with their collection, we thought it sounded like an exciting proposition and wondered where it could lead. As we started to look into the archive the works seemed to suggest connections with music beyond the approach of pairing or translating. We found that we were thinking about sound in a wider sense. We are not artists – we are musicians, and so we’ve chosen to use this opportunity to work with the gallery to explore sound as a medium, our medium, and to open that up further for us and for the viewer/listener. To stretch ourselves, to explore the edges between music and art, creation and performance.”

Simon referred to the exhibition as being a bit like planning a festival. First there was the headliner – in this case Janet Cardiff’s The Forty Part Motet. Imagine standing in a circle of 40 speakers, each playing a single voice of a 40 part harmony. For the band it was a chance for audiences to explore what it is like to be on stage, to hear the sound surround you rather than being played at you, listening to the coughs, or any small mistakes which get missed “out front”.

Then there is the critically acclaimed assembly of other acts. These include Mark Leckey’s Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, which the Guardian called “perhaps the finest portrayal of British nightlife ever captured”, and the Turner Prize-winning work The Woolworth’s Choir of 1979 by Elizabeth Price.

Works by artists as diverse as LS Lowry and Bridget Riley from the gallery’s collection are paired with a set list of songs. And then there’s the wild card – in this case a new installation created by the light artists behind the Kaiser Chiefs’ shows. Entitled Silent Gig it will use light, colour, and lyrics to create an immersive environment that offers visitors a reconfigured experience of a live music show and its elements.

Soon the doors will open on a completely new type of exhibition for York Art Gallery. It has been fantastic working on the project with the band and we can’t wait for people to come and experience it.

All Is Quiet opens on 14 December at York Art Gallery

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