Vexations 2007 / 08

Vexations was a Site Platform commission for Site Gallery, Sheffield. Site Platform is an exhibition series focusing particularly on work that is process-led, durational, produced live in the gallery or experimental in form.

Vexations used as its starting point Eric Satie’s famous and enigmatic musical composition of the same name from 1893. Satie’s Vexations is a very short and difficult piece for piano, the manuscript of which included an epigraph that stated “to play this piece 840 times one would need to prepare oneself in the greatest silence with serious immobility”.
The suggestion that this short composition should be played repeatedly 840 times has become a taunt for musicians ever since and makes Satie’s work perhaps the first piece of conceptual music.  Full performances of the work have been done by composers and musicians such as John Cage, Gavin Bryers, and others.

In the art work, the artist chose to use this piece as a way to relearn how to play the piano, and to do this live in the gallery space over a period of 15 days. While learning to play, she also developed a large wall-drawing/score on which she recorded her experience of ‘relearning’. This wall drawing was photographed automatically every 6 -10 mins throughout the 15 days, producing in the end a set of 840 still images.
The images were finally installed in the gallery space, making physical the idea of the 840 repetitions, and also became a new visual score.
A performance work was then made where the artist invited two professional musicans to play from this new score as a live improvisation.

The work was presented at Site Gallery as a in-gallery process-based work culminating in an installation and live performance. Subsequent showings of the work would use the 840 images/score, along with either the recording of the live performance (as a document) or new improvisations from the score. An additional video work was also made from video footage of the  artist learning and practicing on the piano as the piece was being developed.

Live Performance Recording