Trisha Donnelly



Not on display

Trisha Donnelly born 1974
Duration: 1 hour loop
Purchased 2005


Created by the American artist Trisha Donnelly, Untitled 2003 is an audio work lasting one hour that features the recorded sound of twelve chimes. The sequence of chimes, which are reminiscent of those produced by a large church bell, lasts a total of around fifty seconds, with the remainder of the work consisting of silence. The bell chimes are heard once at a random moment every hour. The work is played on a CD through speakers that remain out of sight within the gallery space.

Donnelly began making audio works featuring intermittent sounds, including bell chimes, in 2000, the year that she completed a Master of Fine Arts degree at Yale University. This work was made in 2003 in California, where Donnelly was born in 1974 and where she continues to live and work. As with all of her audio works, the artist has not divulged the source of the bell chimes heard in this recording, and Donnelly rarely provides any commentary or contextual information on the works she makes, which, like this one, are often untitled.

The chiming of bells commonly functions as a marker of time, but in occurring at a different point in each hour the chimes heard in Donnelly’s work seem to subvert conventional temporal logic. As they do not play at a fixed time, the opportunity to hear these chimes is partly dependent on chance, and the fact that the speakers playing the work cannot be seen by viewers means that the chimes may constitute an unexpected intrusion into the gallery space. Bell chimes frequently have a ritualistic status, often connected with religious services, such that the sound of Donnelly’s chimes may create the impression that something important is taking place. However, as the critic Jan Verwoert argued in his survey of the artist’s practice in 2005, ‘Donnelly’s works preclude you from consuming experience in the event and instead make you experience the un-consumable as the event’ (Verwoert 2005, p.119). In this respect, the silence surrounding the bell chimes is an essential component of the viewer’s encounter with this work.

An exploration of sound and music, often constructed around seemingly minimal and ephemeral audio elements, has been a recurring aspect of Donnelly’s work. Howl 2002, for instance, is a looped sound installation that features the intermittent call of a wolf, while Oh Egypt 2005 consists of a heavily slowed-down voice that utters the work’s title in a low, elongated fashion at irregular intervals.

Alongside these audio works, Donnelly’s diverse practice has included photography, film, drawing, sculpture and illustrated lectures, as well as a series of undocumented performances (or ‘demonstrations’, as the artist calls them) that mark the opening of her exhibitions. As in Untitled, with its unexpected bell tolls that break the silence, an interest in notions of appearance and disappearance can be perceived across a range of Donnelly’s works. For example, her video installation Untitled (jumping) 1998–9 (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York) involves the artist re-enacting the characteristic gestures of famous musicians while bouncing on an unseen trampoline so that her body moves in and out of the frame. The Redwood and the Raven 2004 (Tate P79237), meanwhile, consists of thirty-one black and white photographs of the dancer Frances Flannery as she performs a piece inspired by an Edgar Allan Poe poem – yet only one image from the series appears each day in the gallery so that the viewer’s understanding of the dance’s choreography evolves over the duration of the work’s exhibition. In 2002 the critic John Miller suggested that Donnelly can be considered part of a generation of American artists based on the west coast who have followed the Dutch conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader (1942–1975) in emphasising ‘incommunicability, self-mythification, and antidocumentation’ (Miller 2002, p.165).

This work was first exhibited at a group show titled Atto Primo at Galerie Massimo de Carlo, Milan, in 2003. In 2005 it became the first work by Donnelly to be acquired by Tate.

Further reading
John Miller, ‘Openings: Trisha Donnelly’, Artforum, vol.40, no.10, Summer 2002, pp.164–5.
Jan Verwoert, ‘The Other Side’, Frieze, no.93, September 2005, pp.116–19.
Anna Lovatt, ‘Wavelength: On Drawing and Sound in the Work of Trisha Donnelly’, Tate Papers, no.18, Autumn 2012,, accessed 16 December 2014.

Richard Martin
December 2014

Supported by Christie’s.

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Display caption

Untitled belongs to a series of sound projects by Donnelly. This work features the sound of a bell chiming twelve times but the frequency of the ringing is random; it sounds once in every hour but not necessarily on an hourly schedule. The artist isolates the sound of chimes, usually signifiers of the passage of time, and presents them as a ready-made audio piece. The original source for this piece, as for all of Donnelly’s sound works, remains unrevealed, but the chimes uncannily recall those of Big Ben.

Gallery label, December 2006

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