Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon brings her Object Of Projection to Newport’s Substation


    By Mario Pinti

    Most know Kim Gordon as the co-founder of alt-rock band Sonic Youth. From 1981 to 2011 their atonal sounds won them the sort of indie cred few have equalled. 

    Since the band’s breakup Gordon has continued her adventures in music and sound whilst experimenting with film, writing, acting, painting and design. 

    While all these aspects of her work appear in the exhibition Object of Projection, now showing at The Substation in Newport, four short films form its clamorous beating heart.

    In each Gordon’s red electric guitar plays an emblematic role, with its unconventional tunings and long orange lead. The amplified sound this stringed object emits is in turns jarring, strange, distorted and caustic.

    In Picture Window 2022 the guitar is permanently slung around Gordon’s neck. It’s with her in bed and when she cleans the house. It bangs and twangs against kitchen items as she prepares a meal. At the dinner table a young woman sits opposite her. They eat in silence, barely making eye contact. The longer this scene goes the more troubling it feels. Who is this woman? Gordon’s daughter? Is it Gordon’s younger self before she was swept up in the energy of punk music and the band and marriage that would come to dominate her life? 

    The film that follows, 12341 Branford St. Sun Valley, finds Gordon in a place where cars go to die. It feels somewhat dystopian. With a soundtrack that could cut steel, Gordon walks around wielding her guitar over the wreckage like some almighty angle grinder. Yet there are moments when her stringed object becomes, dare it be said, sensitive and solicitous to the detritus of industrialisation.

    In A Proposal for a Dance 2023, Gordon, with Eleanor Erdman, delivers a brilliant and blistering assault of distorted guitar noise. The two of them gyrate on a stage barely more than a few square metres in size. Across three screens the camerawork feels as claustrophobic as the stage looks. Still, you watch, wishing you were there in the audience.

    Finally, there is Los Angeles June 6 2019. Like a hand-held electric sander Gordon’s guitar touches, rubs against and glides over the everyday objects of the city. Largely ignored by the passing crowd Gordon moves like an alien, using sound to examine and interpret place and time as perhaps only an outsider, arguably Gordon’s artistic leitmotif, can do.

    Curated so the audience is mostly left to themselves to interpret the works on display, Object of Projection delivers a snapshot of an artist refusing to play it safe. 

    Exhibition information: Object of Projection – Until 24 August 2024 — The Substation

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