Charlemagne Palestine:

is a site-specific installation for

Audible Gallery at Experimental Sound Studio (Chicago, IL)
March 16 to April 13, 2014
Artist's Reception: March 16, 3pm

, Charlemagne Palestine's exhibition at Experimental Sound Studio's Audible Gallery, is the first such exhibit of the artist's installation work in the United States. The work's components are hundreds of stuffed animals (a recurring trope in both Palestine's live performances and visual artwork) and an assemblage of droning keyboards. Palestine regards the stuffed animals as shamanic totems, and has referred to them as "my muses my divinities my gods my soul mates my link to eternity my gateway to foreverness"—toys in a "transcendental sacred game." They serve as animistic foils to the audio component of the work: a mass of continuous keyboard drones that evokes Palestine's own characterization of his musical works as "liquid continuums."
Plural, maximal, and endless, divinitusssanimalusssacréusssorganusss constitutes an elegant and deeply personal manifestation of the ecstatic ritualism that lies at the core of the artist's oeuvre.

This exhibition was coordinated in affiliation with
Charlemagne Palestine in Chicago, March 13-17

4 March, 6pm
Video Screening >>
Whiskey Time: A Portrait of Charlemagne Palestine
@ Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
220 Chicago Ave
Presented by Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago,
Directed by Guy Marc Hinant & Dominique Lohlé (Belgium, 2013)

14 March, 7pm
Video Screening >>
@ The Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, University of Chicago
915 E. 60th St, Screening Room 201
Presented by Film Studies Center at the University of Chicago, Programmed by Michelle Puetz

15 March, 9:30pm
Piano & Voice & Electronics Concert >>
Charlemagne remixed by Charlemagne
@ Constellation
3111 N. Western Ave
Presented by Frequency Series

17 March, 8pm
Organ Concert >>
@ Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, University of Chicago
5850 S. Woodlawn Ave
Presented by The Renaissance Society

Frequency Series and Constellation,
in collaboration with Film Studies Center at the University of Chicago,
Experimental Sound Studio,
The Renaissance Society,
and SAIC's Sound Department.

The urgency with which I proposed to invite Charlemagne Palestine to create an installation at Audible Gallery was in part inspired by the 2008 release An Anthology of Noise & Electronic Music / Fifth, A Chronology 1920-2007. This 2-CD album was curated by Guy Marc Hinant, co-founder of the Brussels-based label Sub Rosa, and was accompanied by a 60-page booklet describing each of the twenty-five artists included. I was aware of Charlemagne’s compositional work and had encountered his video Island Song before, but was struck by Guy Marc’s 2-page biographical sketch of Charlemagne, which began “Charlemagne Palestine / visual artist, composer, and performer, b. 15 August 1947, Brooklyn, New York.” This was not an alphabetical listing, so why was “visual artist” listed first? Then, in the following paragraph: "There are so many misunderstandings surrounding the work of Charlemagne Palestine [...] often considered as a musician," Guy Marc wrote, "he sees his work only through visual arts.” As an art historian specializing in interdisciplinary artists who work between visual art and music, I was confused and disturbed by this statement—Who is this artist, Charlemagne Palestine? And why has his visual work seemingly been edited out of (at least American) art history? These became plaguing questions that were difficult to answer.

In 2013 Charlemagne invited me to his home and studio in Brussels to work with him in his archives. Through my research I learned that Charlemagne Palestine has had many exhibitions of his visual art and intermedia installations in Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, and Italy, but as is too often the case, if it didn’t happen in New York or LA, it’s like it never happened at all (at least according the art authorities in New York and LA who write the art history textbooks).  

When I discovered that Charlemagne was coming to Chicago in March 2014, under the auspices of the Frequency Series, I asked Lou Mallozzi if I might invite Charlemagne to realize a U.S. premier of his installation art at Audible Gallery. This alternative gallery, located within the Experimental Sound Studio and outside of the commercial art gallery structure, is exceptionally well equipped to host multimedia sound installations, and I had a vision that this exhibition could not only interact with the performances that Charlemagne was scheduled to give, but also demonstrate Charlemagne’s identity as not just a composer but a visual artist as well. Furthermore, the installation could incorporate a continuous sound that would drone on for several weeks beyond Charlemagne’s four-day residency.

divinitusssanimalusssacréusssorganusss is the result of these inquiries. At Charlemagne’s request, we prepared for his arrival by adopting over 200 animals (which Charlemagne refers to as “divinities”) from local second-hand stores and borrowing twelve synthesizers and organs from musician friends (thanks to Chicago’s strong experimental music community, this was possible!). Then, between performances, Charlemagne and I worked with the incredible staff and interns of ESS for two days to radically transform the Audible Gallery into this maximal experience.

Charlemagne’s instructions during the installation of the exhibition reminded me of the bold exhibition title I had come across in his archives: Let's go back to the caves, to hell with white walls (Galerie du Génie, Paris, 1988). All of the walls were covered with hideously colored and patterned fabrics. The only wall left bare was projected upon, with the video Sacré Asnieres (2000/2013), which Charlemagne filmed in an animal cemetery near Paris, and which demonstrates his affinities for cemeteries and animals (both stuffed and living).

The sacred trance-like droning sounds of the installation were created on site in harmonious communication with ESS’s own mysterious droning sounds. (Have you heard it before? This drone has always been in this building. Where does it come from?) The instruments’ keys have been wedged with cardboard, a customary practice within Charlemagne’s continuous-sound performances, such as his seminal organ work Schlingen-Blängen.

And of course the divinities, (which you might have seen previously accompanying him on stage by the suitcasefull or featured in his videos). Here they are represented in a massive throng, as an attentive audience of creative muses. Charlemagne’s collaboration with these divinities has spanned his entire artistic career (at its largest, perhaps, with his 3-headed God Bear, which sat nearly 20-feet tall for Documenta 8). Indeed, he likes to remind us that the teddy bear was invented in his native region of Brooklyn in 1902 (a fact that hints at his personal, fervid ethnological research). Additionally, the divinities hopefully remind us of Charlemagne’s aversion and resistance to the dry, academic, formal, and intellectual art movements that frequently afflict Western art and music. The divinities’ assembly here may recall pictures of Charlemagne’s legendary art studio space, Charleworld, which houses thousands of such animals.

Ah, yes, I’ve been to Charleworld, and it is an incredible, majestic, sonorous place. And now, with divinitusssanimalusssacréusssorganusss, we experience a tiny peek into Charleworld here in Chicago. Please enjoy, I invite you!

— Amelia Ishmael, Curator, March 2014

Thank you Charlemagne Palestine, Aude Stoclet, Lou Mallozzi, Sandra Binion, Adam Vida, Dan Mohr, Alex Inglizian, Christina Brakebill, Olivia Block, Joseph Clayton Mills, Frequency Series, Jason Soliday, Jack Kerns, Joseph Kramer, Will Faber, Janell Huckstadt, Neil Jendon, George Bucciero, Lori Felker, Matthew Lockdall, Kimberly Sutton, Ralph Loza, Corey Mahaney, Becky Grajeda, and Marsden Giolas.

Exhibition photos by Dan Mohr

Exhibition Review
by Lori Waxman in "Whitney artists in our backyard Solo shows by 5 Biennial artists on display at Chicago galleries afford best way to experience works," for Chicago Tribune, April 9, 2014.

Charlemagne Palestine at Experimental Sound Studio
Palestine is another senior figure in the Biennial, an artist-cum-musician who traffics in stuffed animals, toy organs and pet cemeteries with committed irreverence. All of these elements figure in "divinitusssanimalusssacreusssorganusss," where 200 thrift store teddies and Elmos throng to the drone of a dozen borrowed synthesizers, each jammed on a single sound thanks to a carefully placed wedge of cardboard. The effect is of a benign if weird underwater inferno: Keyboards create the incessant, vital roar of the ocean; crib liners hang from the ceiling with the sway of eels; curtains and lights tint everything a hazy pink. It's hard to enter but even harder to leave.

Additionally, "divinitusssanimalusssacreusssorganusss" was commemorated by Lori Waxman in "Chicago's best visual art in 2014," for Chicago Tribune, December 12, 2014.