Review: an art installation in San José sounds about “the strangeness of the truth” every day at noon

Interior of the clock tower of the San Jose Museum of Art. Photo: Richard J. Karson

A rapid catastrophic scroll on social media quickly confirms that we no longer all agree on what were once called “facts.” Disorienting arguments about the truth besiege us 280 characters at a time when we are isolated on personal devices, separated from everything but the ongoing clashes.

Trevor Paglen’s new sound piece at the San José Museum of Art surprises us with our solitary absorption into a strange community experience. Installed outside the museum rather than inside, “There Will Come Soft Rains” subversively penetrates the public space, resounding in the plaza outside the museum.

Paglen’s first sound piece ‘There Will Come Soft Rains’ joins the South Bay Museum’s Beta Space program, which invites artists to create experimental works. It is installed for an extended period of one year, ending next November.

Paglen is no stranger to the Bay Area. He grew up here and received his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in geography from UC Berkeley. He has exhibited at the Berkeley Art Museum, the Altmann Siegel Gallery in San Francisco, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and is known for his research on the invisible parts of our contemporary world: the Internet, surveillance drones, black sites. .

Artist Trevor Paglen Photo: Christine Ann Jones / Supplied by Trevor Paglen and Altman Siegel, San Francisco

The room announces with a familiar chime. On time, and once a day at solar noon, loudspeakers attached to the museum’s historic clock ring like a bell before delivering a series of factual messages that become increasingly disturbing for a brief minute.

After the announcement chime, we hear the ticking, followed by the current weather as read by curator Kathryn Wade described as the voice of “a bossy mid-century white man, kind of like someone who speaks through the stadium intercom “.

For those of us of a certain age, hearing the exact time to the second read by a robotic voice is reminiscent of POP-CORN, the old telephone service used to know the exact time. (AT&T shut down the service in 2007 with the rise of cellphones.)

The familiar, though anachronistic, fact of the time of day is followed by an assortment of information. Forcing us to recognize the specificity of our own moment in time, the loudspeakers announce the temperature recorded on that date 50 years ago. Other reports include news on endangered species, the number of acres in California currently on fire, Jeff Bezos’ current net worth, or the top 10 Facebook posts in the past 24 hours.

Sure, you can check out the top Facebook posts yourself, but have you ever shared this information with other people? Paglen leaves us no choice. Rather than ringing only inside the museum in a dark, padded box, Paglen’s piece projects across the plaza in front of the building into Cesar Chavez’s Plaza across the street, and down to Tech Museum, the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Joseph, and the corner of Market and San Carlos streets, although slightly so far.

Exterior of the historic clock tower of the San Jose Museum of the Arts. Photo: Frédéric Liang

“One of the things I heard yesterday was the number of police murders in the United States and I was like, ‘Whoa… that wasn’t information I expected to hear in a public place. “”, recalls Wade, who notes that the experience is disorienting – in a good way.

This “strangeness of truth,” as Paglen calls it, aims to unite listeners in a shared experience. And there is something a little optimistic about it. After all, art hopes for an audience, and Paglen hopes we will reflect on “these tropes of how our truths are formed, how time is bounded, (and) what this relationship is between institutions and communities and shared experiences ”.

It’s poignant to think of this play in San José, in the heart of Silicon Valley. Facebook, now known as the Meta, can be found just up the 101 freeway. These are the modern versions of civic clock towers precisely regulating the hours of the day. Paglen’s hourly striking announcements echo those regimented civic clocks installed by governments in Renaissance Europe that wrested control of time from the variable chimes of church towers that responded to dawn and dusk. twilight, human time.

If you want to schedule your visit (pun intended), arrive a little before noon. With the end of daylight saving time, “There Will Come Soft Rains” rings at solar noon (11:51 this time of year) and a few minutes later at official noon, when you hear the competition from the bells of St. that of Joseph.

Beta space: Trevor Paglen “There will come soft rains”: Sound installation. from 11 p.m. to 6 p.m. from Friday to Sunday; open until 8 p.m. on the first Friday of the month. Until November 6. $ 10 adults; $ 8 seniors; free for students, teachers and those 17 and under. San José Museum of Art, 110 S. Market St., San José. 408-271-6840.


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