I heard it before I understood it: a pulsing. It was familiar. Blood rushing. A heartbeat. A womb. Something begins, but it is distant–and sounds fade like fog on a warm lake.
I am standing in the Samurai Gallery of the Crow Collection of Asian Art. I am part of a sound installation; We Know You’ve Got Soul by Grammy Award-winning composer Henri Scars Struck: a brilliant world premiere commissioned by Soluna and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
The gallery I am in is the first stop on a journey. Henri calls it Before. I stand quietly, re-contextualizing the sounds I hear based on the images in the Japanese Screen, the Samurai suit, the beginnings are everywhere.
I move to the second gallery, This Life, a pairing to the exhibition Landscape Relativities: The Collaborative Works of Arnold Chang and Michael Cherney. I am in an assimilation of sounds, landscapes, and intrigue. Parts of this composition are light, joyous, others slow and melodious. A piano takes me into This Life: slowly.
In the stairwell, one of my favorite places in the museum, I walk through The Passing. It was actually the stairwell: an illuminated, enlightening stair designed by Graham Greene and Ruben Garza, that beckoned Henri to create a commission of sound for the full museum: in this stairwell he transformed an idea for one sound installation into a symphony of 8 spaces: it is no accident he chose an auspicious 8. In this stairwell, as part of the passing, I hear the pull of a baby crying, children, air. I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
The lure of the next gallery pulls me up: what is just around the corner – what I can’t yet hear takes me there. The Jade Room, where Sculpting Nature: Jade from the Collection is currently, offers the fourth stop on this journey of sound: Judgement. I sit on the gray couch and take it all in. The composition swells around me: beautiful yet distorted: not quite right. In some ways, uncertain. I stay with it though, looking for meaning in me and around me.
Wisdom of Compassion: The Art and Science of Iwasaki Tsuneo (1917-2002) in the Mezzanine offers Merciful Judgement. I try to distinguish the differences in these two experiences: I listen for less uncertainty. I listen for answers. I hear more beauty and less distortion. I am guided by the words: the signposts for this journey, but I need them and want them. The context of these titles frame my interpretation. I am grateful.
On the Skybridge, I hear the space of silence. I stand in one of my favorite spaces in the museum: a bridge between two galleries: a Tree House looking over Flora and the marvel that is the Nasher Sculpture Center. I am still but I am moving. The word Transition is just right.
Gallery III, Divine Pathways of South and Southeast Asian Art, offers the final two chapters in this practice of cycle: Eternal Rest and Gratitude. I realize I need more time, perhaps hours, to really feel these moments Henri intended for us to hear and see. 64 voices collaborated for this final composition: 64 languages. It is, just as it was in the beginning: everything. I wanted to lie down–the way you feel in a grassy field. I wanted to roll down the hill of this sound and land at the bottom. I wanted to be still and move at the same time. I want to talk to a friend about it and I wanted to be quiet. This installation is brimming with impermanence.
I promised myself I will come back and sit with the composition several more days. It is, after all, a journey. I love Henri’s choice to place meditation mats in the Gallery for Eternal Rest.
I’ve associated those words with a cemetery. This experience, however, is the opposite; I was “with” the energy in this work: part of the system of risk, failure, forgiveness and love. More human than religious, this is a work of spirit: a complement to the boundless realm of art and nature in the study of Asia. Henri Scars Struck teaches us that this system is, as is life & our museum, one big circle holding all of us in the human experience.
Come walk this journey on your own and be with us. We Know You’ve Got Soul. The installation is open through June 4. Immense gratitude goes to Henri, Grace, luminous curator Muriel Quancard and our friends at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and the Soluna Festival.