Over the past fifty years in the Fluxus era the parameters of visual experimentation within musical performance have been enormously expended. This experimentation reconfigures traditional views of musical performance to a new, alternatively engaging experience, one that embodies sound and space, object and image, resulting in a refreshing compositional form.
In this light, Degrees of Freedom by Polish art group, BNNT was not just an illustration. Some years later,  I  still have strong memories of the performance, which was intertwined with sound and object installation, and physically occupied an ongoing exhibition at the ICA, Space Painting by Chinese artist, Zhang Enli. The first impression of the set was overwhelmed by a dreamlike spatial aesthetic. A  brightly multicoloured and unobstructed way of brush painting wholly encompassed the walls and floor. However, this dynamic visual impact was punched through with intermittent bursts of punk rock and noisy sounds by drummer Daniel Szwed banging cymbals and gongs. His drumming performance seemed to reach an almost utopian state of noise.

Degrees of Freedom by Polish art group, BNNT, The Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London, Tuesday 3 December 2013. Curated by Arts Territory. Supported by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland and the Arts Council England, photo Miseongoa Shin, 2013


On the far side of Space Painting, black wooden battens were displayed against the wall as part of the performance installation. They trembled subtly, sometimes noticeably, jolteds by invisible vibration generated from the tremendous energy of the sound. Eventually they fell to the floor as if they were interacting with the provocative music. It created a curious combination of the visual media in a live performance context, with an intangible air of excitement about the intense frequency within the site-specific painting show.
Another visual attraction in the performance was that the artist, Konrad Smoleński, played an audio object called the Baritone Missile which he designed himself. This weapon, or guitar-like sonic piece, was constructed with various bits combining the elements of an instrument with an extremely low tone, and sometimes it sounded almost muted, contrasting with the drummer’s deafeningly loud and variable playing.

Bomb 2003, Konrad Smoleński, Audio object, 102cm x 20cm x 20cm, photo Miseongoa Shin, 2013


Smoleński’s performance paradoxically hosted both inaudible acoustic tension and a humorous allegorical visual impact; he seemed to be armed as a freedom fighter. The artist, who has visual art background, has ironically mentioned that he cannot play any instruments in a proper sense. Thus, his enigmatic contraption looked rather like an abstract sculpture with a military motif as opposed to a traditional instrument. The performance seemed to be neither improvised nor intended by the two half-naked artists in black masks; it looked anonymously guerrilla-esque and simultaneously evoked unrestricted and sheer ecstasy.

The manner of BNNT’s spectacle was closely associated with Korean artist Nam June Paik’s Fluxus object movement. The art form itself mostly materialised as events or performative art pieces. It has been described as attempting to make something nobody else has done before, and through crossing over artistic genres and styles and making much use of humour. The attempts were meant to blur the borders between performance and reality, performer and audience.

In short, Degrees of Freedom created socially expressive interaction between a site-specific live performance and its viewers. It allowed onlookers to perceive the multi-sensory experience not only by hearing and seeing but also by feeling their whole body vibrate within the powerful sound sensation. That being said, Degrees of Freedom by BNNT can be regarded as a total work of art. This Neo-Fluxian campaign shows a continuing attempt to blend different artistic media and disciplines, and re-explores inter-media practices and the power of feeling in contemporary art.
Miseongoa Shin
Miseongoa Shin completed  her MA in Arts Administration & Cultural Policy at Goldsmiths University of London in 2011
Originally Published on Contemporary Lynx
Sources: SMOLEŃSKI, K. (2013). S.T.R.H (Stones That Rest Heavily), The Solo Exhibition by Konrad Smoleński: The Laznia Centre for Contemporary Art, Exhibition catalogue p. 26.

HANHARDT, G. J. (2013). Nam June Paik: Global Visionary, The United Kingdom: Giles.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment