'our creation is that guru; the duration of our lives is that guru; our trials, illnesses and calamaties is that guru. There is a guru that is nearby and a guru that is beyond the beyond. I humbly make my offering to the guru, the beautiful remover of ignorance, the enlightenment principle that is within me and surrounds me at all times.'
Guru Stotram

Monday, 24 October 2011

In the darkened ante-chamber of the Serpentine Gallery a little drum plays itself. Nobody wields the sticks that whisper it's gentle, ghostly rhythm. They're held in the hands of time.

The next room is more deserted still. Not even a drum here. No paintings or sculptures, just blank grey canvas hinting at nothing and curious oblong holes punctuating the exterior walls so I see out into the park, hear its noises and feel its breathe on my face. I sit on the floor whilst the time passes, certain that something, at some point, will occur. It's a magical pause, a hole in time, a moment of conscious not knowing.

Then the low resonant notes of a saxophone ripple towards me. I turn to see a lone, romantic figure, staring out through one of the small perforations of the gallery wall, playing these long, melancholy, haunting notes. A film starts. On the wall another solitary dark haired man, this one carrying a musical box through the quiet semi-urban streets of a place that could be anywhere, slowly turning the handle that creates an unlikely version of Should I Stay or Should I Go? The Clash twinkles, childlike.

I follow the saxophonist's crepe shoes into the domed atrium like he's the Pied Piper of Hamelin, mesmerising. Here another film starts to play. An empty white room leads my eye to an open window outside which an ambiguous object is suspended. The camera creeps forward and the riddle is solved. A man with white hydrangeas adorning his black dreadlocks hangs mysteriously, suspended high up a residential tower block, an angel from the Gods. He also plays the saxophone. It turns out to be Berlin, the high rise known locally as The Long Sorrow, the man noted free jazz musician Jemeel Moondoc.

The images in this exhibition are exquisite, suspenseful, celestial, but the real power lies in the music and the silences. The sounds and the absence of sounds. The artist, Anri Sala, has worked closely with musician and experimental composer Andre Vida to create a living exhibition through music and performance in which no two days will be the same, no two performances will match. Andre Vida will share with the audience, or not as the case may occasionally be, a marathon nine live saxophone improvisations a day, seven days a week, over fifty-two days. And within that creative, performative, non-fixed space questions will arise that may, or may not, find answers.

Sound is the ultimate poignant manifestation of the impermanence at the heart of life. The very second it is heard is the very second it disappears. This improvised music is not recorded, written down, or planned. It exists in the moment and nowhere else. Vida says: “when you're improvising you have to be as open as possible to the moment, to your responses to it, to what you can actually achieve but also to what you can't achieve, to what you don't know about yourself.”

Vida is responding in an immediate, instinctual way to the music of Jemeel Moondoc, to the space and to the ever changing tide of people around him. The question is, during the course of 468 live performances, will the departure point at some stage cease to be an inspiration and start to become a prison? Will the relationship begin to sour or can the love, the focus, and the openness be maintained? Will the fixed slowly strangle the fluid, wrapping around it like poison ivy? Or will it provide a stable and grounding platform from which the fluid may flourish? Every moment will be a question. Every moment will be unknown.

As I wander round back to the start of this intriguing looped echo of a show, Should I Stay or Should I Go? continues to reverberate around the space at different speeds, on different films, played by different people. I'm in a strange magical wonderland where nothing exists but this very moment – all and nothing. The drum taps out one last heart beat to me as I push open the gallery doors and head back out into the cacophony of London, feeling like I've just dipped my toe into eternity.

Anri Sala
showing at Serpentine Gallery, London
until 20 November 2011

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