Terry Fox: Resonance
Resonance as it is known to the public—although affectionately the series has been termed “The Terry Fox Extravaganza” by its co-curators Dena Beard, director of The Lab art space in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco, and Constance Lewallen of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA)—is a multi-venue celebration of the late, Seattle-born, Europhilic Fox's work and contributions to the Bay Area as a member of the first generation of conceptual artists in the late 1960s and 1970s. Spanning eight venues over nearly two months, this inaugural Stateside Fox retrospective comes exactly 11 years after the artist’s passing in October of 2008 in Cologne, Germany.
The series began at Grace Cathedral. Visitors walked the church’s replica of the labyrinth of Chartres Cathedral in France to the rumbling chorus of Fox’s The Labyrinth Scored for the Purrs of 11 Different Cats (1977). Labyrinths drew Fox’s interest because, unlike duplicitous mazes in which one gets disoriented and lost, labyrinths do not intend to deceive but rather to offer those who wander a meandering path that will, in time, lead to its center and back out again. Having been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease as a teenager, Fox became particularly fascinated with the Chartres labyrinth for its dimensions upon first encountering its shape in 1972, as quoted in the gallery guide that accompanies the show,
This labyrinth was a revelation to me in many ways. I had undergone cycles of health, sickness, health, sickness, with attendant hospitalization, release, hospitalization, release for 11 years. The labyrinth at Chartres has 11 concentric rings.” 1
The figures of the labyrinth—11 rings, 34 turns through these concentric rings, 12.87 meters in diameter, and his 552 steps following its path to the center—became a significant preoccupation for Fox from that point on. 11 cats for 11 concentric rings, their purrs boom and grumble like a hushed, sustained thunder through the listening room. Fox merged his 11 tape recordings together to form the path of the labyrinth: 552 steps were each translated to 10 seconds of purring, as were the 34 turns. Even the final mixed track pans from left to right as one would turn while walking the Chartres labyrinth. The score is bound by a diligent sense of order and commitment to the external world. Moreover, this project gives a strong sense of Fox’s legacy because, like much of his work, it is playful and unorthodox, yet deeply personal and built to create a visceral shared experience.
The Labyrinth Scored for the Purrs of 11 Different Cats can also be heard at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts where it resides alongside additional Fox ephemera and a greater collection of sculptural interpretations of the Chartres labyrinth’s dimensions—all of which vary drastically from each other in how they transform these basic spatial measurements. One such example at the Wattis is A Metaphor (1976). Two stools are combined at the legs to make a sort of architectural diorama of the cathedral. A string runs from the center of one stool’s circular seat to the other, suspended in the midpoint at which the two stools connect is a paper recreation of the labyrinth. The stool beneath, a slightly lighter color, represents the water table of the city of Chartres, unseen beneath the cathedral and its labyrinth. This choice of a commonplace object like a stool, the bland kind of chair that typically blends into its surrounding, subtly surprises.
As Fox’s sculptural investigations often take up similar notions through dissimilar means so too does his penchant for unconventional sheet music, which is also mapped in the graphic score of his Berlin Wall Scored for Sound (1980-82), performed twice at The Lab on the evening of October 11th by the Del Sol Quartet. Mathematically oriented, the following is an excerpt from Fox’s description of his method:
The entire length of the wall was measured in centimeters. The centimeters were then transposed into seconds so that distance became measured in time. The topographical or geometrical peculiarities were then divided into five categories and assigned letters.2
Next, these five topological categories were supplemented by the letter X for one section of the Wall “resembling the Horsehead Nebula,” a component of Orion’s constellation belt. Together, these six distinct sounds are combined into a loop, just like the wall that encircled West Berlin, for a performance that lasts 15 mesmerizing minutes. Fox’s sonic landscapes are truly that, an auditory reinterpretation of a geographical parallel. His ambition is not necessarily to capture the feelings that an idea conjures, but rather to capture the textures and the tangible qualities of a physical space through the more formless and obscure properties of sound—properties that Fox enjoyed for their pre-linguistic potential to communicate affect.
The Lab’s opening also featured the performance of an installation that will otherwise be housed at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts until early November: Circulation: Site Pendulum (1970). Deceptively simple (and too easy to accidentally walk into where it sits unguarded on the gallery floor), a piano wire hangs from the ceiling weighed down near the floor by a lead ball that rests adjacent to a partially filled glass of water. On this occasion, the sculpture was activated by an old friend of Fox’s, Ron Meyers, who kneeled on the ground with the ball in hand before throwing it lightly so that this shiny dense sphere orbited the glass. The crowd was transfixed, silently hypnotized for what must have been more than ten minutes—though time felt simultaneously to be moving both too slowly and too quickly, or not at all. Tom Marioni, founder of San Francisco’s Museum of Conceptual Art (MoCA) later quipped at a screening of Fox’s Timbre in the library of SFMoMA that “boredom becomes fascination after 10 minutes.” Watching this metal ball float around a glass elicits a variety of emotions: first perhaps fear of a floor covered in broken glass, confusion as to why the artist would create such potential destruction, boredom as the ball continues to orbit slowly, eventual excitement at the prospect of witnessing brief chaos, fear and thrill as the ball appears to almost collide with the glass several times, and eventually awe and relief when the weighted ball only gently taps the glass with a soft nudge that creates a surprisingly pleasant ringing noise until eventually the motion ends and the installation returns to its original immobile state as if nothing had ever happened.
Events continuing around the area include access to Fox’s writings, display cases of ephemera at institutions where Fox’s presence was felt such as the San Francisco Art Institute, and screenings of films such as Timbre (1976) and Children’s Tapes (1974) at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive and SFMoMA, respectively. Fox’s widow, Marita Loosen-Fox, and friend Ron Meyers led a performance and discussion at Cushion Works cataloguing and recalling Fox’s tremendous life and sustained interests (such as labyrinths, a theory of time as circular, and hot plates). This vast extravaganza with its impressive scale permeates the city with the optimism and wonder of a performance artist who created transient works and experiences that sparked confusion, sometimes frustration, and often wonder, while giving those who engaged with Terry Fox’s art practice the opportunity to look at the surrounding world and commonplace objects differently—if only for a few drawn out moments.
- From the Terry Fox: Resonance Gallery Guide, p. 15, cited further: Terry Fox: Metaphorical Instruments (Essen, Germany: Museum Folkwang, 1982), 61-64.
- From the Terry Fox: Resonance Gallery Guide, p. 19.
The Scope of the Exhibition:
2948 16th St., San Francisco, CA 94103
A Resonating ChamberOctober 11–November 10, 2019; Fri–Sat 7–9pm, Sun noon–6pm,
October 11, 6–9 p.m.: Performance of Berlin Wall Scored for Sound (1980-88), interpreted and realized as an instrumental version for the Del Sol Quartet by Arnold Dreyblatt and activation of Circulation: Site Pendulum from the Labyrinth Series (1970) by Ron Meyers
CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts
360 Kansas St., San Francisco, CA 94103
The Labyrinth Series and Other Work
October 12–November 2, 2019; Tues–Sat noon–6pm
Grace Cathedral1100 California St., San Francisco, CA 94108
Friday, October 4, 2019 6pm-8pm.: The Labyrinth Scored the Purrs of 11 Different Cats, 1977
3320 18th St., San Francisco, CA 94110 October 10, 2019; 6:30pm doors / 7pm presentation: Terry Fox: Living Archive (ark-hive): A Presentation by Marita Loosen-Fox and Ron Meyers.
UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
2155 Center St., Berkeley, CA 94720
October 1–11, 2019: An excerpt from Fox’s video, Children’s Tapes, will be shown on the museum’s exterior screen
October 1–December 14, 2019; Wed–Sun, 11am–7pm: The Labyrinth Scored for the Purrs of 11 Different Cats, an audio work, will be installed in the lower level of the museum
871 Fine Arts
20 Hawthorne St., San Francisco, CA 94105
October 25–December 14, 2019; Wed–Sat 10:30am–5:30pm
A selection of works on paper will be displayed in this art bookstore and gallery in downtown San Francisco.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Library
151 Third St., San Francisco, CA 94103
October 11–November 12, 2019
October 17, 7–9pm: Screening of a video of Fox’s performance Timbre and a discussion led by artist Tom Marioni.
San Francisco Art Institute Library
800 Chestnut St., San Francisco, CA 94133 September 24–December 14, 2019
The display cases will feature a range of materials relating to Fox and his circle.