Music Box Model. Video Projections Music Box Model. Music Box Model.
  Music Box Model. Music Box Model. Music Box Model. Music Box Model. Music Box Model.
  Music Box Model. Music Box Model.
  Music Box Model. Music Box Model.
  Music Box Model. Music Box Model. Music Box Model.
  Music Box Model. Music Box Model. Music Box Model.
  Music Box Model. Music Box Model. Music Box Model. Music Box Model.
Music Box Model. Music Box Model. Music Box Model.
Scriabin Music Boxes Artist Statement

This exhibit began in a brainstorming session between CFEVA artists and Astral musicians in early 2006. There I meet my collaborator, Koji Attwood, and we quickly discovered our shared love for Alexander Scriabin’s piano music. Koji had written his doctoral thesis at Julliard on the composer and told me about Scriabin’s synethesia, a cross-sensing ability that caused Scriabin to associate different keys with specific colors. (I’ve included Scriabin’s associations with all the notes in the scale at the end of this statement.) Scriabin had a dream of combining all of the senses, and all of the arts, in his work. He created a color-organ, a machine that projected light during his home performances. Just before his death in 1915, he was planning an enormously complicated, seven-day long piece titled “Mysterium,” a compete integration of all the arts and senses to be performed in the Himalayas and designed with the purpose of “ending the world.” In addition to being a musical genius, he was, perhaps, a little extreme and eccentric.

I saw his house when I recently traveled in Russia, researching and taking photographs for this exhibition. I saw the famous light-organ, disappointing crude. I saw a video of the “Mysterium Prefatory Act,” a compilation of the notes Scriabin left behind at his death translated into a performance that used projected colored light in swirls and streaks behind the orchestra. It was awful. To me, Scriabin’s music is so visually rich, human, and evocative of place that it seems better paired with strong visual imagery. His music sounds like internal conversation, external argument, an event unraveling. I listen to it and see specific imagery.

I also see color… or at least feel his color assignment for the key signatures of the pieces often makes sense. It may seem strange to talk about the color of an exhibition that is technically black and white, but color can be present apart from simple notation. For me “Following,” inspired by the “Prelude in C-sharp Minor,” is purple, the color Scriabin associated with C-sharp. It is the color of the forest at the end of the day when it is still quite light outside its edge, but already deeply purple within. Scriabin assigned the color “flesh” to E-flat, and I thought biblically of “Prelude in E-flat Minor” as “the flesh,” a man struggling against himself just to stay afloat. “Mary at Sea,” inspired by the gorgeous “Prelude in G-sharp Minor,” (which I listen to over and over,) is certainly lilac grey, the color of the mist between two worlds. “Skull Rider,” inspired by the frighteningly abrupt “Prelude in F Major,” can be nothing but the deepest red. The falling-overtop-of-itself running sound of “Etude in B Minor, Slate Blue (Unbridled)” is the moment just before total darkness when all color becomes blue, gray and shadow.

Scriabin also associated notes with certain characteristics. He thought of D-flat as the “Will of the Creative Spirit.” When his character description seemed to fit what I heard more precisely, I used it, like in “Running Within,” the creative spirit in a cage of beauty, my feelings of the creative process. I also used Scriabin’s characteristic description of G-sharp as “Movement of the Spirit into Matter” in “Last Judgment.” This piece sounds like a dividing of the soul, like heaven and hell. Absolute. Either one, or the other.

I was lucky enough, thanks to an Independence Foundation Fellowship sponsored by Astral Artists, to visit Russia for three weeks last May. I was already deeply into this body of work by then, surrounded on all sides of my studio by images of Russia that accumulated the longer I listened to Scriabin’s music. I went to see those beautiful cube-shaped medieval orthodox churches to try to understand this form that had taken over my visual life quite unexpectedly. While I did spend several days in Saint Petersburg and Moscow, the bulk of my travels were through Novgorod, a medieval town just south of Saint Petersburg, and the smaller cities of the “Golden Ring,” a circular pilgrimage route north east of Moscow. I walked each town seeing many churches. Novgorod alone has over fifty surviving. One of these was surrounded by a cemetery where I took photographs of the many headstone portraits seen in the exhibit. I saw mostly the outsides of the churches, the locks on the doors rusted over during the Soviet area. But those I did see inside were covered with frescos. Almost invariably the crowning scenes of these frescos was the Apocalypse, the “Last Judgment,” when Christ divides humanity into those who are saved and those who are condemned. I was fascinated, not only by the extreme visual beauty of some of these frescos, but by the idea expressed, a mystery to me. Growing up the daughter of a Lutheran minister, I am familiar with the biblical rules. While the rules can seem remote to me, I’m drawn to the idea of an incomprehensible absolute.

I have also become fascinated with the Virgin Mary. I saw many stunning icons of Mary in Russia, and have been thinking about her ever since. She is such a strange character; the embodiment of unconditional love, yet seemingly resigned to the fate of the world. The female deity as an intercessor, but powerless, a witness with tears evaporating above the hell fire.

All of these themes have dominated my creative life because of that one meeting, more than two years ago, brought about by the desire of two wonderful organizations to collaborate in honor of their joint anniversary years. The project I originally designed, the model of which is presented in photographs at the beginning of this exhibition, is a large performance piece that combines live piano performance with all-surrounding video projections inspired by Scriabin’s music. It is a twenty-foot cube, a “Music Box,” with a grand piano on top that houses an audience of eighty-eight sitting beneath the piano within its scrim walls. It is designed to be installed in the atrium of the Kimmel Center, a temporary third performance box within that arched-glass structure. This exhibit, and the concert given in conjunction with it, is the first stage in realizing the larger project. A project that sometimes seems a little like Scriabin’s “Mysterium” - terribly large and a little crazy. I hope to see it someday.

This first stage, “Scriabin Music Boxes,” would not have been possible without the countless hours given by Debra Rosenblum, Julia McGeehan, Dale Castelucci and, especially, Shane Stratton. Thank you to Genevieve Courtobis for handing me a loaded Holga camera a year ago and absolutely insisting that I use it. Created at a time when the cost of bronze ingot has more than tripled in price, I am so grateful to my parents, Janet and Bernhard Bischoff, who purchased the metal I needed to cast this work. Thanks also to the Independence Foundation, The Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, The Sugarman Foundation and The Norton Island Residency Program for supporting this body of work. My fondest thanks to Maida Milone and Vera Wilson for inspiring this exhibition in the first place. And heartfelt thanks to my brilliant collaborator, Koji Attwood, for his beautiful playing.

Julia Stratton, Scriabin Music Boxes Artist Statement