Casting the Circle
Casting the Circle (Shawn Decker and Annie Finch, 2008) was first shown at the Chicago Cultural Center as part of the exhibition Collaborative Vision: Poetic Dialogue, a project organized by curator Beth Shadur which paired visual artists with poets to create new work. The piece was made up of 21 speakers (bare w.o. cabinets) arranged in a large spiral on the floor. The audio incorporated readings by Annie Finch of part of a pre-existing poem, as well as various "elemental" audio materials gathered and composed by the artist which deals with the four elements Annie refers to in the poem: earth, water, fire, and air. The audio is heard in 6 discrete channels, with all the low sounds in the center (subwoofer) and the highest sounds in the outer (and smallest) speakers. Each audio channel uses progressively more speakers to play the sounds as you travel outward through the spiral. The end result is a highly spatial and diffuse soundtrack, which you navigate by walking through the piece.
The following statement was posted with the work:
Artist Shawn Decker and Poet Annie Finch
Though our backgrounds and aesthetic orientations differ quite radically, working on this collaboration revealed that we are both involved as artists with the power of the natural world and the patterns and rhythms underlying natural forces.
In “Casting the Circle” these ideas take shape as a spiral representing the four elements—earth, water, fire, and air—arrayed in the four directions associated with them in Native American and Celtic/Wiccan cosmology.
East-air-intellect, south-fire-passion, west-water-emotion, and north-earth-body circle around center-spirit. Each direction adds its own character and energy to human experience as we progress through the spiral.
The four brief chants, one for each element, are excerpted from Annie's poem “American Witch.” Shawn’s settings treat the chants as raw material, on the same plane as natural sounds.
Viewers moving through the piece are surrounded by sounds that simultaneously abstract and embody each element in turn. Voice, words, and the elements themselves fuse together, moving the viewer further through the spiral of the elements and seasons as part of the cosmic dance.
We hope this piece will “orient” its viewers-readers-listeners-participants more closely into the patterns of natural forces that we all absorb, embody, and live among every day.
Listen to audio documentation recorded at the Chicago Cultural Center. (This recording was made with a Sure VP88 microphone head height, centered within the piece).
Watch video documentation: