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Sonic Blossom: A gift between strangers in a gallery

Arts & Culture

A one-to-one “gift of song” from a stranger will be offered to gallery visitors during a unique performance event next year at the Art Gallery of South Australia.

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Sonic Blossom, by Taiwanese-American artist Lee Mingwei, will take place throughout the gallery over two weeks during the OzAsia Festival in October and is one of the highlights of the AGSA’s 2019 program released this week.

It was added to the program by new director Rhana Devenport, who previously presented it at the Auckland Art Gallery.

“This is a performative event that will take place anywhere that the artist chooses,” Devenport tells InDaily.

“He will find a space in the gallery and it’s a very focused performance involving the singing of Schubert’s Lieder … it’s very much a performance that’s based on generosity and the idea of song as a personal gift.”

Each song is about three minutes long and presented by a classically trained singer in costume.

It was originally created for the opening of South Korea’s National Museum of Modern Contemporary Art, and has also been performed in places such as the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (see video above) and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney.

Lee found inspiration for the project when he and his mother found comfort listening to Schubert’s Lieder while she was recuperating from heart surgery. In interviews, he has described each song is a gift between strangers, where the vibration of the voice “touches you in a very magical way.”

It is, says Lee, like “walking into a garden and suddenly a butterfly lands on your shoulder for a fleeting moment and it’s so magical because you know it’s not going to be there forever and there’s no way you can plan this encounter”.

Art Gallery of SA director Rhana Devenport in the Elder Wing. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

All the exhibitions programmed for the AGSA in 2019 will be free.

They will include the display of finalist works from the Ramsay Art Prize (May-August); South African-born artist William Kentridge’s That which we do not remember (July-September), including drawing, collage, stop-motion animation, tapestry, sculpture and other work from throughout his 30-year career; Tarnanthi Festival (October); and Tarryn Gill’s Guardians (March-May), a series of sound-emitting soft sculptures inspired by the studio of psychoanalyst Anna Freud.

An early highlight will be the previously announced survey exhibition of work by contemporary Australian artist Ben Quilty, to be presented during the Adelaide Festival.

“It’s hotly anticipated,” Devenport says.

“He’s a much-admired artist for his work as a war artist and with the Bali Nine and for taking a political stance … he’s a spectacular painter but he also really answers people’s interest in the relevancy of art today and how art can help us negotiate the difficult times in which we live.”

The gallery also unveils its new hang of Australian art in the historic Elder Wing, which was stripped earlier in the year for the landmark Colours of Impressionism exhibition.

Coinciding with its 2019 program launch, the AGSA has also unveiled a rebrand, which sees the pantheon building removed from its logo and the launch of a new website and online store.

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