Yann Novak: Slowly Dismantling / Histories of the Present

Yann Novak: Slowly Dismantling / Histories of the Present

During November Yann Novak will tour his latest album, Slowly Dismantling, at venues across the West Coast of the US. The album launched on 1 November and is available via Room40. Novak also presents a multi-channel sound installation, Histories of the Present, in collaboration with Robert Crouch in Berkeley, California until January 2020.

The album forms a dialogue with the derelict Hotel Washington, a building in Novak’s hometown of Madison, Wisconsin which was the focal point for local queer communities in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. In 1996 when Novak was 17 the hotel burned down. With the conflagration, a potential space for Novak and others to explore their emerging queer identities away from mainstream gay culture was lost. This loss at a key moment between childhood and adulthood gave Novak a keen awareness of the limited range of expression tied to the term ‘queer’. 

With the burning of the Hotel Washington came the loss of a coherent home for burgeoning and experimental subcultures where identity could be explored away from the gaze and pressure of corporate and mainstream cinema, art, music and fashion. 

The shell of the Hotel Washington is featured on the cover of Slowly Dismantling, as an emblem of the transformative process Novak has undergone as a queer artist. For years, aware that his work did not align with tropes normalised as part of queer culture, the artist kept his practice and queerness distinct, and limited his visibility in his practice. “I began using field recordings as a way for me to limit my decision making. I could shape and mold this source material to an extent, but there was always an external structure. While this allowed me to create work that was autobiographical, I was never totally in control of what I was making; thus, I was never fully visible in the work.”(yannnovak.com) 

According to Novak, a transformative experience at a music festival set the project into motion. “I was finally immersed in a queer community that existed outside all dominant cultures, finally allowing me to feel seen as queer without any of the shortcomings the mainstream culture would have me believe. The acceptance and community I found there showed me the importance of identifying my work as queer—even if it does not deploy any of the codified tropes mainstream culture would be comfortable with—in order to make another version of queer visible. “(yannnovak.com) 

Starting in mid-November Novak will tour the West Coast of the US in support of Slowly Dismantling. The tour will visit Chapel Performance Space, Seattle WA on 14 November, Pica in Portland OR on 15 November, Land and Sea in Oakland, CA on 16 November and Human Resources in Los Angeles on 20 November. 

Yann Novak and Robert Crouch

Also in California, Novak presents a site specific multi-channel sound installation at Downtown Berkeley BART Plaza until 217 January 2020. A collaboration with Robert Crouch, Histories of the Present is part of a series of ten sound installations at the recently built Plaza. The piece explores the relationship between the plaza and human-led activities in Berkeley and the animal and vegetable ecosystems that also converge there. The piece combines field recordings from urban and natural environments with multilingual texts from the city’s municipal codes; these sounds mingle with sounds being made live in the square, creating a space to meditate on Berkeley’s overlapping ecosystems. 

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Slowly Dismantling is at venues along the West Coast of the USA in November 2019. Read an interview with Novak about the album via FACT

Histories of the Present is installed at the Downtown Berkeley BART Plaza from 18 October 2019 to 17 January 2020.

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