I am the youngest of three siblings. When we were growing up, my brothers and I took piano lessons. I played up until high school, when I decided to devote time elsewhere. My brothers quit too, one after the other and now the expensive family piano sits unused in my parent’s home.
Visual artist Julie Comnick has created a riveting exhibit entitled An Arrangement for a Silent Orchestra, which discusses the relationship between technology and art, and the loss of cultural traditions in the modern world. I recently spoke with Julie about the inspiration and meaning behind her work. “The questions this project raises about the relationship between increasing technology and its impact on cultural heritage pertain across art disciplines, including music: What is the result of reduced funding for the arts in education? In a nanosecond culture, what becomes of practice?”
The violin is the centerpiece of Comnick’s exhibit and she has a deep connection with the instrument. Comnick grew up playing the violin, but slowly began to leave it behind in High School, and permanently in College when music classes were unavailable.
While you may be thinking her approach is harsh, she believes burning was the best method to get her message across. “A pile of violins is to an orchestra as a pile of kindling is to a fire; burning evokes the history of the practice of symbolic burning, and encourages the viewer to contemplate its intention.” Historically the burning of books, flags or draft cards was made a statement and carried a message beyond the act itself. This is no different for Comnick’s project.
Another feature of the exhibition is its call for advocacy. “While the violin is personally significant to me, it is culturally symbolic to a generation that, due to circumstances such as increased technology and reduced public funding for the arts, is less likely to learn to play an instrument in school, seldom attends the symphony, and is unlikely to pass values of musical heritage onto their children.” Comnick reaches beyond herself to speak out about the possibilities for future generations.
But music isn't to be lamented; there is always a hope that it will hold value and evolve in new ways. As an adult, she returns to the violin and the exhibit even features her own performance. This exhibition raises questions about our present and instills hope for a brighter future.
Arrangement for a Silent Orchestra features large scale paintings that show the progress of the fire as it destroyed the violins as well as a video component. The project spent several years from start to finish with Comnick “spending a year researching the topic, collecting so many instruments, staging the burn, completely a portfolio of preparatory paintings, and video production; and several more years devoted to completing the series of large-scale paintings.” Her dedication is truly inspiring and is evident in each piece.
On display at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum from December 19, 2014 – March 22, 2015, this thought provoking display should not be missed. Come see for yourself and consider the role of art and technology in your own life.
By Katie Selph