What does Richard Serra know of Silence? Sam, Wobi Office manager, mused as beheld the flaccid metal slab before him. Marc had sent him off to a museum on a summer afternoon and tasked him with the thorny task of coming up with a blog post for Wobi Office. Unceremoniously named Silence (for John Cage), the piece before him sat as a singular monotonous note on the floor of the Chelsea exhibition hall.
Upon noticing the name of the work, Sam recalled that John Cage had spent years of his life looking for silence. Inspired by the ideas of Zen Buddhism, Cage wanted to produce for music, a work in the vein of the blank canvas paintings of Rauschenberg. After visiting an anechoic chamber, however, he had concluded that silence was impossible. So long as there was life, there would be no silence. After all, there would always necessarily be the beating of a human heart or the breath of one’s lungs. Quash the source of one sound, and you hear another with more acuity.
It was under such a conclusion that Cage decided to write 4:33 - a musical score with no notes, but not without sound. For in the absence of the performer, the recital hall comprised of the masses in the audience. It was thus that his ritual served as a spotlight on which to shine upon the mundane sounds of human existence. In his piece, the music was in the subtle shuffling of the audience, the heartbeats of their anticipation, and the occasional coughs, yawns and that echoed throughout the halls in the absence of instruments.
Whereas Cage drew upon the life of his audience for his performance, here the unremarkable slab of raw metal was attended by the low murmur of museum chatter. Between the museum’s leisurely patrons and the silent tension of security personnel, there was little to break the meditation that Serra requested of his audience.
The walls were blank and the only light was a slit of sun let through by the building skylight. There we no adornments, and unlike most museum exhibit, the room did not even have a name plaque with a short description of the work. However, despite the humility in presentation, this exhibition was, Sam thought, a rather grand affair. Each one of the metal sculptures must have each weighed an enormous amount and the installation process would have not been trivial. Also between his four works on display that summer, Serra’s exhibit occupied a significant swath of prime New York real estate. Under absence of major stimuli, the size of the museum halls became the most striking feature of Serra’s event. In a city where space demanded a premium, the hollow halls of the Gagosian Gallery had placed an air of holy reverence around Serra’s work.
Granted, the slab was not without its fair share of unique characteristics. The cut was imperfect and the face of the metal bore the textured scars of rust and wear. However, despite its elaborate spotlight, there was little more Sam could say to make this mere slab of metal carry any significance outside of its description.
In design, the goal was clear. The tenets of minimalism required one to pair away, to reduce, and to purify. Function was the measure upon which, which form was to be judged. And while all of Serra’s works, absent ornamentation, and embellishment, were evocative ideal platonic shapes. None had an explicit function outside of their prescribed role in art. What then was the role of minimalism here? And which sounds does silence of Serra’s piece point to?
(PART 3 IN A SERIES OF 5)
At Wobi Office We are passionate about good design and believe that it makes the world a better place. Architecture, automobiles, touch-screen tablets – good design is beautiful to look at and easy to use. We find inspiration for our line of quality office chairs from a wide variety of sources. We’ve compiled the following series of blog post to muse about our thoughts and inspiration. We hope you enjoy and look forward to your feedback