Interview: Fiona Green | Living North

Interview: Fiona Green


Kaiser Chiefs
We speak to the co-curator of York Art Gallery’s latest exhibition – where they’ve collaborated with Leeds indie-rockers the Kaiser Chiefs

How did the exhibition come about?
We were throwing some ideas around with a colleague, he’s actually friends with one of the band members, so he put the suggestion on the table, as he thought it may be quite interesting to do something together, with them being a northern band. And so we approached them. Initially it was more about them responding in some way to our collection, rather than an exhibition. They got quite excited about the idea, and so it just went from there, and has ended up being really quite a big exhibition – not just responding to artworks in our collection, but also picking up on sound installations and sound art that they’ve been inspired by, or that’s helped them with their creative practice. 

Did they bring the sound installations to you?
Yes, because we’ve never really had anything like this before. Obviously the band element of it is one thing, but this focus on sound-art in particular is new too. So they were the ones who gave us a massive list of all these wonderful artists that they’d seen, or heard, and people that they were interested in. They talked about why they’d been inspired by them and why they thought it would be quite interesting to show that work in a way that could open up conversations about the mediums of art and music, and the crossovers between them. 

What can visitors expect?
At the top level, we’re thinking about the Kaiser Chiefs and how, as a band, they create their art and what their creative practice is about with regards to music. That then links into thinking about sound and art with the sound installations that we’ve got, and that flows into thinking about “art art” and the band’s responses to art and, more generally, musical responses to art. 

We’ve got a loan from the Tate, a Mark Leckey piece – Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore – which is a culmination of lots of different pieces, like 60s, 70s and 80s dance music. The Kaiser Chiefs were really interested in that. It struck a chord with them, because they felt like it really immersed the viewer into British club life, and made them think of when they were kids growing up in the north and going out to discos. They actually met in a Northern Soul revival club in Leeds in the mid-90s, so they’re having this conversation about their links with nightclubs and that style of music. 

Then we’ve got a section based on an American composer called Pauline Oliveros, so that’s a bit more of an interactive area of the gallery – there’s lots of different material there, from books to audio, film clips, archival material – all looking at this theory of Deep Listening. You’re faced with this big music installation as soon as you come in, but then as you’re moving round, we’re encouraging people to think of different ways of listening. So it talks about how you use sonic meditations in interactive  performance, listening to nature sounds, it’s a bit more of an explorative area. 

The last bit is focused on art from our collection that the Kaiser Chiefs wanted to include. For each work, they’ve selected a piece of music which they think resonates with the painting – so while you’re looking, you’re listening at the same time. And then, through that, the second element of it is a deconstructed gig. So while you’re in one space, you’re looking at the artwork and you’ve got the audio of the music in your head, but then the deconstructed gig is then the lyrics to those pieces of music stripped right back, so there’s actually no music – the lyrics flash up in this gig-like setting to the right beat. So it’s looking at all these different areas of art, music and writing, and then stripping them down into separate elements and thinking about how you write music. I think it’s going to be quite different, I’ve never seen or heard of anything similar.

Why do you think it’s so important to keep exhibitions new and fresh? 
Thinking about visitors is where it really stems from. We obviously get a lot of tourists that come through York, but out of all the attractions in York we tend to be a slightly lower pull than some of the others ones. So we’re trying to think more about the types of visitors that we get and the type of visitors that we don’t get, and how to try and create an engaging atmosphere for people. I think, sometimes, when you think about an art gallery, you automatically think about that static, quiet idea of old masters’ paintings on a wall, but this exhibition is the complete opposite of that because it’s quite loud and there’ll be lots of sound in it, but also lots of points for conversation and creative practice as well.

What installation would you pick out? 
One of the major loans that the band were super-excited to get is the 40-part Motet by Janet Cardiff, which is a sound installation but it’s really immersive. It takes up a whole gallery space with 40 speakers in a big oval shape, and she’s re-recorded some classical music which is sung by Salisbury Cathedral Choir. The idea behind it is that each speaker is a voice in the choir, so as you walk round you can pick out the individual voices, but then when you’re standing in the middle of it you can hear it as a collective. It’s a really beautiful style of music, and it’s an interesting experience to listen to it that way.

What do you hope visitors will take away from this exhibition?   
Enjoyment. And an understanding that art isn’t necessarily just a painting on the wall. Which I think, even in this day and age where we’ve got the Turner Prize, and we have lots of different contemporary art galleries, I do think people do still struggle with that. So just trying to introduce a new type of exhibition and new types of artwork, and to really get people thinking and talking. I think that, whether they like it or hate it, if they’re talking about the art then the exhibition has worked. 

When All Is Quiet will be at York Art Gallery between 14th December–10th March 
For more information, visit

Published in: November 2018

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