I Was a Double
Tang Museum, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York
A composer and a curator had a conversation about how composers work.
Western classical music traditionally splits music making into two distinctly separate jobs: the composer and the performer. The composer invents the ideas behind the music and the performer realizes them. Sometimes the composer and performer are the same person; sometimes they are separated by hundreds of years. Yet even across great distances of time and space, the composer and performer can communicate with each other through a series of written instructions: the score. Like a rulebook, a score is a description of actions the composer proposes to the performer. We value composers by noticing what qualities of rules they invent; we value performers by noticing what they add to, change, emphasize, or ignore in the following of those rules.
Visual art can be made this way as well. It is not always as easy to see, because so many artists are both the composer and the performer, both the rule maker and the rule fulfiller. The artists in I was a double invent rules and then follow them; whether written or not, the artist made a proposal to herself or himself that becomes realized in the physical artwork. As in Western classical music, each artist has separated the invention of the idea behind the thing from the creation of the thing itself.
Curators David Lang and Ian Berry asked the artists for a sentence describing their rule making. David Lang composed music for each artwork based on the artists’ statements, making his score out of theirs. I was a double comes from one of the artist’s statements, with the word “double” resonating on multiple levels: pair, duplicate, shadow, doppelganger; the musical term that indicates two instruments playing the same part together; the artists’ double roles in inventing and realizing their own rules.