Two women, pale wraiths in caked make-up and dimly lit, are stitched together in a bulbous, tandem Vtorian dress. They stand on stage and sing; looking broken and doll-like; shuffling in synchronicity; sounding celestial. In the next room, behind a high-speed shutter door, three identical triplets serve black champagne in three (almost) identical black chambers, as light-emitting profiterole speakers flicker.
The three chambers form the ICA’s new installation ‘Cellar Door (Once Is Always Twice)’, itself just one strand of ‘Cellar Door’ – a futuristic, evolving musing on the nature of creativity. Conceived by renowned French artist Louis Greaud, it began in Paris’ Palais de Tokyo and is to culminate in a full scale operatic interpretation by Thomas Roussel, before living on permanently in Greaud’s own, soon-to-be-built studio space. This ‘artistic experiment’ even has its own conceptual merchandise, with ubiquitous vending machines serving CELADOR, colourful sweeties completely without taste.
The duo singing are marking the exhibition’s opening with their own musical interpretation, as well as giving a taster of the forthcoming Roussel libretto. One is Sierra Casady aka Rosie from New York alt-folkers CocoRosie. The other – and I confess this may be down to shoddy research on my part, but most likely due of the enigmatic nature of the whole operation – is an unidentified doppelganger, specialising in serving eerie backing vocals under unrelenting demonic eyes.
Accompanied by piano, cello and violin, the pair embark on thirty minutes of raggedly rehearsed, undoubtedly accomplished, but somehow rather rigid and uninspiring classical music. Sierra Casady leads, her hands waving airily as her voice lifts off and rarely comes down. Some of the songs appear to be in English, but I’m not sure which, with each one sounding roughly like the last.
It’s not clear how this relates to Greaud’s art, although both the music and the exhibition seem to revel in their obliqueness, so perhaps that is the primary connection. Of course none of this would be a problem if the music spoke for itself, standing alone triumphantly. Despite soaring vocals and strings it leaves me unstirred.
A music box is introduced, then a harp – which, it must be said, Casady plays with brilliant and beautiful delicacy – but they fail to provide much variation. The piano builds then fades again, the lights shift from a gloomy brown wash to a gloomy yellow one, and the audience remain silent and still, separate and observing. It’s all very gothic and earnest, and nothing ever really changes – and if your mates knew you were here on a Saturday night they’d raise an eyebrow, if not both.
The whole thing has the appearance, and slightly unnerving edge, of those eighteenth century palace concerts where young prodigies performed for European royalty, so much so that at the end you half expect a burly Bavarian patriarch to come on from the wings and accept the applause.
Outside afterwards a section of the (wholly arty, predominantly French, proudly pretentious) crowd roll cigarettes and wax lyrical. Someone declares it, with a grandiose, gallic tone, “groundbreaking”. I feel sad that I must have missed something and sidle off, down to the underground.
Words: Baron Jackhausen