Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Nina Katchadourian


Natural Car Alarms

I'm a great believer in misunderstandings as fruitful starting points for art works. Moments of confusion can be incredibly expansive mental spaces, where you hover in a kind of vastness, trying to extend this state as long as possible until some clue provides context, or some bit of information anchors you once again to what's actually going on, delineating and determining what you should be understanding about things. Most people have had the experience of sleeping in an unfamiliar place and for a moment having no idea where you are when you wake up. Standing there in the rainforest was a bit like this: I tried to stay with both interpretations of that sound for as long as I could, but I also made a mental note to remember the error for later.


Multi media artist Nina Katchadourian is interested in communication and intervenes inspired by her disorienting experiences.

Helen Mirra recommended me to look at Natural Car Alarms. Nina Katchadourian describes her experience of walking through the rainforest, feeling disoriented and suddenly hearing a car alarm. The car alarm sound was the one of a bird. She later decided to reproduce this effect in an urban setting and selected shockingly alarm-like and also distinctly still bird-like sounds that will be played by cars in the urban space.

Natural Car Alarms is a project consisting of three cars rigged with modified car alarms whose typical six-tone siren has been replaced with a similar one made only of bird calls. Some of the bird sounds are shockingly electronic in character; others are very bird-like in the quality of their sound, but very alarm-like in their patterning. The idea for the project was in fact the result of a misunderstanding’s heard a bird in the jungles of Trinidad that I mistook for a car alarm—and the project took up the severely urban car alarm as an element that was in fact completely natural to the Long Island City landscape where the piece was exhibited several times in summer and fall of 2002.


In the case of the process of this piece, it is fascinating to me how the disorientation can come from nature and the familiar from the industrial.

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