Trisha Donnelly

Trisha Donnelly spent weeks discussing the idea of collapse with an organist, using a variety of metaphors to inspire him to think about the structure of his instrument through the idea of its dissolution. Considering architectural collapse, or the devolution of a character from good to bad over the course of a narrative, Donnelly coaxed the organist to break down the tones reverberating through the pipes, investigating the intricacies of this instrument which had all but vanished from western culture for almost three centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire. At the peak of their collaborative exploration, the artist secretly recorded the twenty-minute improvisational session that forms the basis for her sound installation in “The Plain of Heaven.”

Evoking medieval church music, as well as fantasy and science fiction films, the piece begins as a kind of retro-futurist heavenly prelude, at times mysterious and discordant, then epically grand, mournful, celebratory, brooding and ecstatic. Perhaps more than any other instrument, the pipe organ—one of which Donnelly would someday like to install upside down, with its pipes pointed towards the floor of a room, as a work called Vibration Station—depends upon the space around it to fully realize its sound and is among the most difficult to properly record.

A similar transience and resistance to documentation is found throughout Donnelly’s work, which she often locates at the edges of the frameworks that exist for art’s presentation. By insisting upon the singular presentation of this piece during the final minutes of the show, Donnelly monumentalizes the work’s metaphors of collapse. Emanating from speakers placed in the heart of the building, the organ music will wind its way through the decaying architecture, elegizing the building, the exhibition, and Donnelly’s work itself—before each fully vanishes.

Egypt, 2004