Last Friday, the Henry welcomed Yann Novak back to the galleries for a special performance of “Presence”. Previously performed using only audio manipulations, this live show was one of Novak’s first to include a visual component. As an introduction to his piece, Novak—who was hardly a stranger to the Henry audience—invited us to let our focus wander, as this was “a very subtle” work.
The auditorium began dark, with an Apple MacBook serving as the room’s sole source of luminosity, reminiscent of basement electronic shows. A monochromatic, flat white projection then shone, and from the silence of the auditorium, a mechanical hum crept into the senses. As this hum continuously swelled and subsided — gradually, yet palpably — the bright white projection gave way to warmer, peachy, flesh tones in a manner equally as gradual. The hues — over the course of the performance — became familiar through their repetition, as colors bled into each-other like dye escaping from a rain-drenched concert bill.
Throughout the piece, new sounds were introduced. Due to the visual and auditory minimalism, every introduction was pronounced, complicating the work and allowing the viewer to further contextualize the experience. The nature of the audio was familiar, as the tones often recalled non-specific instances, allowing for the association of these sounds to multiple emotions. Certain motifs and flourishes were reminiscent of wind gusting through skyscrapers, the ring of a telephone upstairs, or the pulsing of busy highway. Novak had cultivated the audio from cellphone recordings from encounters with people as well as certain environments. The isolation and elongation of certain excerpts of existence resulted in a curious, and seemingly distinct experience for the viewer, who arrives at the performance with a totally unique pre-disposition.
Novak’s addition of a visual component to “Presence” expanded the emotional explorations of the viewer into an experience that links to visual arts; in the retinal sense. However, in the Q & A session post-performance, Novak cited interest in the narrative connotations — rooted in autobiography — of the visuals, as opposed to the position of the visuals as purely formal. Though Novak hesitates to completely associate his work with minimalist peers, it seems it is partially due to his minimalism via audio, and now visuals, that emotional and specific responses are elicited from the viewer.