Steve Roden: Shells, Bells, Steps, and Silences

Shells, Bells, Steps, and Silences is a video installation and film survey by Los Angeles artist Steve Roden. While Roden has been making films for over 20 years, this is the first body of work he has made with video exclusively, although the visual language and the approach to performance is certainly an extension of his 2011 film, StriationsShells, Bells, Steps And Silences incorporates 3 research projects conducted by the artist over the past year: a collection of sea shells acquired by Roden from the estate of modern dancer Martha Graham, notes from a recent residency at the Walter Benjamin archive in Berlin, and John Cage’s seminal 4’33”, a work that Roden performed daily over the course of an entire year.

In October 2011, Steve Roden was invited by the DAAD to spend a month researching Walter Benjamin’s archives at the Akademie der Kunste, after having seen some of Benjamin’s notebooks previously in an exhibition in Berlin in 2006. Because he is unable to speak or read German, Roden responded primarily to the visual aspects of Benjamin’s notebooks – and was particularly excited by a series of color-coded symbols that resembled the kind of graphic notations avant-garde composers were exploring during the 1960’s. Benjamin used a variety of visual systems to organize his writings within his manuscripts, and so Roden spent much of his time translating Benjamin’s various graphic decisions and idiosyncrasies into scores.

When Roden arrived in Berlin, he was already ten months into a yearlong project of performing John Cage’s 4’33” every day for a year, and thus there were moments in Berlin where Cage and Benjamin collided. When Roden returned from Berlin, he received two large boxes of seashells and small objects that belonged to the dancer Martha Graham. As he began to work with the results of the Benjamin research, things started to evolve into a kind of “mash-up”, with Benjamin, Cage and Graham entwined.

The exhibition was accompanied by the film screening, Steve Roden: Sequences and Scores, co-curated with LA Filmforum. This screening includes Roden’s first film, the dreams of ophelia, from 1989, as well as many never before screened super 8mm projects from early 1990’s – some of which will be accompanied by improvised sound scores performed live by the artist. The evening will also include Roden’s 2011 16mm film, Striations, inspired by Dennis Oppenheim’s early films, Gary Beydler’s Hand Held Day, and the work of Jess.

Roden’s working process uses various forms of specific notation (words, musical scores, maps, etc.) and translates them through self-invented systems into scores; which then influence the process of creating the work. These scores, rigid in terms of their parameters and rules, are also full of holes for intuitive decisions and left turns. The inspirational source material becomes a kind of formal skeleton for the finished abstract works. In his visual works, translations of information such as text and maps become rules and systems for generating visual actions such as color choices, number of elements, and image building.

The exhibition was also accompanied by sound performances by Roden, Lawrence English, France Jobin, and Andras Blazsek, and premiered a new live collaboration between Roden and English.

Shells, Bells, Steps And Silences was also the subject of a short form documentary video produced  by KCET Artbound.

  • Steve Roden
  • Lawrence English
  • Andras Blazsek
  • France Jobin
LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions)
June 28 - September 16, 2012