Warning Siren


The other day in the Idealog office, we were discussing how Billy Apple can take a picture of anything and it’s art. Celebrating the banal isn’t a new concept of art history and there’s arguments to me made for the thought process behind an exhibition. In that vein, I had huge expectations for the Auckland Festival’s exhibition/performance ‘Siren’ from UK artist Ray Lee.

The performance sold out at the Edinburgh Festival and has received rave reviews around the world, so I headed along to Motat last night to check it out. We were escorted into a dark tram shed, the lights went out and the show began.

The exhibition is comprised of a series of tripods with whirling mounted sirens and lights, spun by two Charlie Chaplin-esque performers. For the first ten minutes I was intrigued. The audience can walk around the space listening to the Doppler Effect created by the sirens, and the LED lights on the end of the spinning tripods produced red oscillating discs of light.

After about fifteen minutes the kids in the audience were on the concrete floor with their hands over their ears as the sirens droned louder and louder. Suddenly I had an urge to join them. In the pitch black the noise and discs were overwhelming. I would have left if I could find the door. It was like being trapped inside someone’s brain during a migraine, the synapses zipping past at speed.

I’m a decade to late to be part of the acid-taking generation but I imagine this could be what taking a trip is like. Scary lights, wobbly shapes, and deep, deep-dark noises. “Nah acid’s probably cheaper and more fun,” says my companion. Lee’s aim is to physically push the sound around the room “So the audience will feel the very air itself is spinning.”  He definitely achieves this, and I’ve learned some Doppler lessons. But forty minutes later, leaving with the droning still ringing uncomfortably in my brain, I need a stiff drink at the festival club to calm the nerves.

“That should have been sponsored by Panadol,” says my ad-industry friend. All in all, this is a good show to go to if you’re teaching the kids about physics or keen for a new ‘Lucy in the Sky’ experience. After a hard day at work? Not so much. Sorry Ray Lee, this one isn’t for me.

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