Gary Webb

Sound of the Blue Light


Not on display

Gary Webb born 1973
Marble, wood, brass, plastic, paper and audio
Displayed: 1815 × 2700 × 2800 mm
Presented by the Patrons of New Art Special Purchase Fund through the Tate Foundation 2003


This is a floor-based sculptural installation with sound. Three large slabs of textured black marble form a tapering wedge-shaped cubicle which is closed at the narrower end. The middle slab has a window cut out of it in the form of a square, a triangle and a semi-circle bleeding into each other. A wooden-box speaker stands on the floor at the end of the cubicle. Five further slabs of marble are laid flat on the floor around the cubicle, abutting its edges. They describe a form approximating to a ‘Y’, where the arms enclose the cubicle on either side of its two walls, and the leg is aligned with and extends beyond its closed end. The arms of the ‘Y’, stretching beyond the entry to the cubicle on either side, have rounded ends. A brass pole slots into a hole in the marble at the end of the leg of the ‘Y’. A roughly elliptical shape cut out of chipboard is mounted on this, facing away from the sculpture. Cartridge paper, covered in rough pencil shading before being cut to size, covers both sides of the chipboard. In the centre of the pencil shading a cluster of differently sized, coloured plastic boxes is bolted together on one surface of the elliptical form. It forms an abstract composition of three dimensional coloured rectangles. The sound playing on the speaker is a recording of ‘Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World’ by Hawaiian ukulele player and singer Isreal Kamakawiwo’ole (1959-97). The track, which features only the singer’s voice and ukulele, plays for six minutes followed by six minutes of silence, repeated on a ninety minute loop. It is generally known as the soundtrack to the Hollywood film Meet Joe Black 1997, directed by Martin Brest, where it accompanied the opening scene on the American war in Vietnam.

Webb developed his practice during his BA at Goldsmiths College of Art (1994-7). He specialises in sculptural assemblages uniting traditional and modern materials in unexpected combinations and configurations. Mixing abstraction with geometry and synthetic found objects with invented forms, he has created an unique hybrid language of his own. Much of Webb’s work is an attempt to make tangible internalised emotions. Initially expressed in spontaneous drawings, they are then developed into three dimensional objects which frequently bear only tangential relationship to their starting point. He has explained:

The time that is involved between making the drawings and making the work builds a space where I can understand what something could possibly be. It allows a sort of a bleakness and obliqueness. Every single time I’ve made something, I don’t know what I’m looking for, so in a way I’m on exactly the same level as the viewer, except I’m responsible for this thing ... My works are not the sort of thing which two viewers will get the same thing from ... With my stuff, people can appear to share the same conversation, yet find each is talking about something completely different, or at least have a different take on it. Talking about the work, the language and the way that I describe the whole process somehow gets confused. However, the tonality of that language and description is very close to the nature of the way the work is made. So even my language – not really fully being able to express the way that these sculptures are and what they’re about – should be examined. It’s hard for me to separate the two.

(Quoted in Tailsliding, p.41)

The sound elements incorporated in some of Webb’s sculptures provide an empathetic point of entrance for the viewer, who is confronted with an unfamiliar mixture of forms and materials. Sound of the Blue Light actually evolved from its soundtrack, a live tape recording given to the artist by an American friend because of the singer’s coincidental dedication: ‘this one’s for Gary’. Emanating quietly from inside the asymmetrical marble cubicle, the song has a pathos which animates the sculptural form with a mood of bittersweet nostalgia.

Further reading:
Early One Morning: British Art Now, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 2002, pp.152-7
Die Young Stay Pretty, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London 1998, pp.30-3
Tailsliding, exhibition catalogue, Bergen Contemporary Art Centre 2001, pp.41-5

Elizabeth Manchester
February 2004

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