Review of Marina Rosenfeld, ROYGBIV&B, South London Gallery

Where is blue lower than red? Where is F higher than C? In a rainbow; in a musical score – everywhere else in sound and colour “up” and “down”, “higher” or “lower” are figures of speech, no matter how accustomed to them we are, and linking them through their use of the same metaphor is what Marina Rosenfeld did on 11 June at the South London Gallery in a version of ROYGBIV&B adapted from a previous performance at MoMA, this time using slightly more Anglicised references and local Peckham youth choirs instead of singers from Brooklyn high schools.

ROYGBIV&B takes its name from the acronym for the colours of the rainbow, and the interlinking choral voices singing within a web of loudspeakers are meant to represent the idea of that spectrum. But there is another angle at work, as each letter in the acronym also becomes a part of well-chosen phrases from well-known songs. Excerpts of Christina Aguilera (“You are beautiful” opens the piece, going from the “Y” of “Yellow” to the “B” of “Blue”), Clean Bandit (“When I am with you, there’s no place I’d rather be”, from “I” and “Indigo”, “Yellow”, perhaps the hint of “O”, “Orange” in “no”, back to Indigo, then “B” for “Blue”) and Alicia Keys (“I keep on fallin’…” to cement the metaphor of directions in colour and sound) give the piece a more sentimental slant as associations are strung across the fragments of songs before the harmonies in the voices resolve into a pure note from the loudspeaker – passing through the reddy-oranges and greeny-blues to a pure colour.

There was a sense of falling short – a sense of disappointment in failed visual description that is practically par for the course in literature and music. That said, the word Rosenfeld uses for the relationship between the sound piece and a real rainbow is “evoke”. Any metaphor only ever evokes, and even the most well-worn are fundamentally lies – no love is actually like a red, red rose – so to judge the piece on its ability to resemble a rainbow would be odd. Rather, the fluctuation of sound frequencies (which nod to colour frequencies) became the key point, and the experience of meeting them in a certain space at a certain time.

As last autumn’s exhibition at the South London Gallery at the moment of being heard displayed, recent sound art work has been focused on sound as a changing part of the living environment. Each sound is here loud, there quiet, suffused or cut into by other noises. So sitting in a packed South London Gallery again, surrounded by fellow audience members, made these interactions all the more personal and gave a glimmer of the warm, lifting feeling you get in communal prayer – the personal, experiential moment within the holistic work. The choir members were sat on plastic chairs facing in what seemed like random directions, with the audience dotted at their feet. In this way, the concept of the piece was beautifully second to the unique combination of sounds and echoes the work made as each person sat cross-legged, listening, and a blonde-haired little girl in a suitably green-patterned dress sang beautifully, backed by a teenage boy and a soulful, bassy adult. Everyone’s rainbows are different, but there are rainbows.

Jack Castle

Marina Rosenfeld: ROYGBIV&B, 11 June, South London Gallery, 65-67 Peckham Road, London, SE5 8UH.

1. Marina Rosenfeld, P.A., Park Avenue Armory, New York, 2009. Photo: William Lamson.