Henry Martin: Agnes Martin said, “We think we are very mundane, but we are all capable of fugues.” Respond.
‘A fugue: a contrapuntal composition in which a short melody or phrase (the subject) is introduced by one part and successively taken up by others and developed by interweaving the parts.’
I’ve never heard this phrase by Agnes Martin before and I’ve been really struck by it – not least because my practice is very fugal in both its form and content. My most recent work, before sleep at the end of love (description of a lullaby) sees the introduction of the self, ‘I’, in a space, and the response of an ensemble of singers, who variously represent ‘the failed lover’ and ‘the friend’. They take up the self’s melody, develop it through interweaving their voices, but ultimately return to silence, leaving the self to their solo.
before sleep at the end of love (description of a lullaby), is a piece about the most mundane things in life, if by mundane we mean the humdrum of daily existence and our musings over them: the contemplation of solitude and our perhaps delusional escape from it through voicing. It’s about our relationship with others and about the resilience the (female) self demonstrates.
I think it could also provide food for thought around the transition from thinking oneself mundane to being capable of fugues – the condition of the artist, in other words. My libretto includes the lines: ‘Like the ventriloquist the artist throws (her) voice outward, a voice, which is at the same time, not (her) ordinary voice. This voice projection is the occasion for a transformation of an ordinary self to another self – a self capable of fugues, I could add.
Much in the same way that Agnes Martin made art through her own struggles, channelling her experiences into something that reached out to the wider world, I identify with Martin in my practice. As a female artist working today it is still sometimes all too easy to think oneself mundane, but Martin and great women artists like her were in their own way, building the “perfect concert hall” for us women artists working today, so we can hear our voices echoed back – the foundations for our fugues. While not enough has changed since Martin’s day, the women I see before me as part of 100days100women are bold enough to write and perform our fugues anyway. Our capability for fugues can be found perhaps in our voice projection – our utterances / that which we produce – setting the whole thing off, but also in the guts we show when we continue to sing our solos when everyone else has stopped.
 Goldblatt, D. 2007. ‘Nietzsche and Ventriloquism’, VOICE & VOID, Edited by Trummer, T. (Ridgefield, CT: Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, 2007), 58
 ‘Like a bad concert hall, affective space contains dead spots where the sound fails to circulate. – The perfect interlocutor, the friend, is (s)he not the one who constructs around you the greatest possible resonance?’ – Barthes, R. 1978. A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments (Vintage: London, 2002), 167