Lenka Clayton & Phillip Andrew Lewis
born 1977, Cornwall, England and born 1973, Memphis
live in Pittsburgh
Five Hundred Twenty-Four, a video installation by Lenka Clayton and Phillip Andrew Lewis featuring singers from over twenty Cleveland-area choirs counting numbers in an iterative process: one person sings “one,” then two people sing “two,” and so forth, to 524. Each choir was filmed separately, and the artists weave together the audio while the video features each choir individually. This work marks the formation and dissipation of a new group made up of pre-existing groups who usually operate separately behind closed doors in different corners of the region. Although the singers may have not been all in the same room, they become one collective musical body through the artists’ digital efforts—a way of fostering community many have become comfortable with through the COVID-19 pandemic. While the piece is sung with a collective voice, every individual is uniquely tasked to begin and end counting at their specific number. The score is a roll call, an audit, a measurement performed by the measured.
The juxtaposition of different contexts in which singing occurs also functions as an embedded sociological study of various communities throughout the region. The musical structure moves from harmony to dissonance and back again into the resolution of the many voices. As artists living in Pittsburgh, Clayton and Lewis have long worked in their individual and collaborative practices with specific communities. Here, they were inspired by the statistic that one in five US households includes someone who is part of a choir. As basic human forms, both singing and counting are ways to explore our tenuous connections to others and learn new ways of being together amid the ongoing pandemic.
Lenka Clayton and Phillip Andrew Lewis, Five Hundred Twenty-Four, 2022, Commissioned by FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art with support from Joanne Cohen and Morris Wheeler.