Reinterpretation of Work (Bell), 2011

presented as part of Reformance II

9 June 2011, 20:45-21:15, staircase of Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo, Madrid

images courtesy of Luis Diaz Diaz

Atsuko Tanaka’s Work (Bell) was first exhibited at the Ohara Kaikan Hall, Tokyo in 1955. The piece consisted of 20 alarm bells set 2 meters apart on a route along the floor. An audience member activated the work by pressing a button near a sign that read “Please feel free to press the button. Atsuko Tanaka”. The bells were wired to turn on and off in sequence, with the piercing sound first traveling away from the viewer, then reversing and traveling back towards the starting point. Tanaka described the work as a landscape painting in space.

In Reinterpretation of Work (Bell), 20 participants with mobile phones stood along a 40-meter route on the staircase of CA2M. At the entrance counter was an “activation” phone with the sign “Please feel free to press the Tanaka button. Margaret Honda”.

an audience member presses the Tanaka button

The piece began when an audience member pressed the button that played the “Tanaka” ringtone. When the sound subsided the person with phone #2, standing 2 meters ahead, played the “Tanaka” ringtone on her phone. This process continued with the sound of the ringtone traveling toward phone #20 and then back toward phone #1, where the audience member again pressed the “Tanaka” button to complete the cycle. Because the audience was responsible for both starting and ending each performance cycle, the performance could have taken place multiple times or not at all.

participants on the staircase of CA2M

When Tanaka’s Work (Bell) was first exhibited, it would have been for an audience who lived through World War II and who likely would have experienced alarm bells or sirens as serious warning signals. The sound of a bell itself, even today, is a call to pay attention to something urgent (and possibly grave in the case of an alarm bell). Presently, car alarms and mobile ringtones are ubiquitous in urban settings. We all know what it is like to try to ignore them. And we have all witnessed many people in the same area checking their phones when only one is ringing. By using a bronze bell ringtone on all phones, I hoped to move the sound away from the idea of mobile phones, and even warning signals, and toward the idea of movement, as was Tanaka’s intent.

Equally important, the participants themselves took the place of both the electric cables and switches of the original work, and their phones functioned as if they were hand-held bells, incapable of making a sound unless agitated or struck by an animate being. The piece is the participants (and their mobile phones, which are really extensions of themselves). There are no materials to purchase and no objects will remain from the performance itself. There is no monetary cost and limited preparation for the participants. The artist need not be present to activate the work. It comes together and then it dissipates.

listening, waiting
the staircase of CA2M, about to be filled with the sound of a bell
for more images, please press the Tanaka button


with thanks to:

Christian Fernández Mirón

Claudia Repilado Miranda

Clara Leitao

Luke Caulfield

José Salas

Lucía Antonini

Simon Steinhauser

Viktoria Hauser

Laura Hurtado

Carmen Cantón

Josh Cleminson

Consol Llupià

Iván García Fernández

Carlos Granados del Valle

Rosa María Parra Palacios

Sebastián Beyró

Miguel Guzmán

Mario Rodriguez