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Sonic Union brings Adam Pendleton’s ‘visionary’ Who Is Queen? MoMA display to life

Sonic Union and sound designer Owen Shearer, in collaboration with executive creative producer Halle Petro, recently played a central role in bringing Adam Pendleton’s “extraordinary” Who Is Queen? large scale sensorial experience to life at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

Who Is Queen? is a sensory piece that is designed to question the ‘traditional notion of the museum as a repository’, and addresses the influence that social-political movements such as Black Lives Matter and Occupy, may have on the exhibition as a form.

Featuring a combination of paintings, drawings, film, spoken word, music and sound, the installation sees a combination of media and subjects presented in a multi-story scaffolding, It builds an alternative structure - literally and figuratively - for the discussion and exploration of history as an ‘endless variation’.

Shearer, who has collaborated with Pendleton in recent years, worked closely with the artist and the sonic installation team on multiple elements for Who Is Queen?. Among them was the sound design and mix for So We Moved, a film portrait of Columbia professor of Gender Studies Jack Halberstam; the custom mix for short film Notes on Resurrection City, and a randomised audio collage that envelopes the reverberant space and bleeds out from the atrium to reach passers-by.

“When the whole piece is ‘on’ and all elements are conversant, you hear the sound collage, and then when the sound collage is not audible, you’ll hear the audio from the video works. They phase in and out,” said Pendleton. “The three core tracks of the sound collage are a 2014 phone recording of a New York solidarity protest in Manhattan with Black Lives Matter, a 1980 reading that the poet Amiri Baraka delivered at the Walker Art Center, and a 1994 composition by the composer Hahn Rowe called Yellow Smile. These are interwoven with music by Jace Clayton, Julius Eastman, Laura Rivers, Frederic Rzewski, Linda and Sonny Sharrock, and Hildegard Westerkamp.”

“This was an extraordinary opportunity to support a visionary installation with a rather unique series of considerations when it comes to audience and sound,” added Shearer. “The list of people who contributed to the project’s implementation is a testament to Adam’s collaborative nature and the scope of his creative vision. The many individual elements combine into a very powerful experience.”

“We have been fortunate to collaborate with Adam and his team on previous projects,” Petro commented, “so when Studio Pendleton came to us over two years ago with the opportunity to work on Adam’s installation for MoMA , we jumped at the chance! The work is a true reflection of the social and political climate during a global crisis, and Adam’s point of view is truly one of the most empathetic and poignant I have experienced. The culmination of time (as the pandemic had pushed the dates back) and efforts that went into this work were extraordinary. We are honoured to have been a part of it.”