Nathan Keay’s short-running, site-specific, 100-channel sound installation titled -1 is the inaugural exhibition of Third Floor Gallery, a Chicago-based “itinerant curatorial project.” Despite its short notice announcement it wasn’t at all an impromptu project. The hundred speakers have been gathered over the past year, and the hundred one-minute recordings have been recorded at Nathan’s home (also the site of the installation), and other locations where he and Stephanie Morris, his now deceased wife spent time in.
The Chicago Reader’s 100 Minutes of Silence article emphasized the silent aspect of these recordings, which set up an expectation of an experimental installation. Rather more, it struck as a display of personal interrogation. The cacophony of sound played back from the speakers was heard from the first floor of the building (for a moment I thought I had arrived at the wrong address): an unquiet reflection of Morris’ absence.
“Silence is not always what we think it is. Silence can be the absence of sound; an accustomed sound gone or the loss of a voice. Absolute silence is hard to come by. These sounds are what are left.” –Nathan Keay
The hundred speakers were distributed throughout the apartment in pairs, stacked on window sills, the floor, by an undone bed, bathroom racks, night stands, kitchen counter, and office space. Neither peaceful not chaotic, the continuous minutes of absence collided with Morris’ presence in photographs, stirring contemplation and anxiety, as the apartment at times seemed to rumble. The installation as a memorial agitated the signifiers of presence and absence, silence, and private space.
The recorded and the looped bespoke absence’s essence and presence’s ephemerality. The audio content became shadows of much larger evocations of pondering and holding of transitions. The silence took place in the listener.
Being aware of the tricky and confusing legal issues of apartment galleries in Chicago, an exhibition like this brings to mind messages that an institutional environment conveys differently, or at a loss. Works of private space like -1 must inspire others to create them and support them – to underline and transform the existing, and to transmit the personal into a shared experience.