Well aware that an interactive radio broadcast based on a multi-instrument sound apparatus is not something the average person comes across, artist David Sanchez Burr found the Neon Museum Boneyard fitting for his target audience—those who might not frequent contemporary galleries or art institutions.
“I’m not interested in the usual art crowd,” he says about citizen speak, an experimental project that includes a theremin, drums, guitar strings, tuned copper piping and a mixing board. “To keep complex ideas alive, critical thinking alive, you can’t pander to the same people. If artists don’t try to reach out to the masses [art] loses its meaning and becomes irrelevant.”
By the afternoon of Saturday, April 18, when as many as 80 people had already participated in citizen speak (including kids from the Boys & Girls Club the day before), things were going swimmingly. They scored their own music on paper that ran through music boxes; broadcast imagined, first-person accounts in the characters of old hotels; ran sticks across beads and poked the screen on a tiny digital piano. The collective sound—timed to a one-second delay—played through transistor radios set about the museum’s north lot.
They were composing, performing and listening in real time with a contemporary art project that had just returned from (re)happening, a celebrated event in North Carolina at the site of the legendary and short-lived Black Mountain College. Sitting at the center of historic Las Vegas signage, citizen speak welcomed anyone who approached and wanted to participate.
The two-day event at the Neon Museum was part of the nonprofit organization’s first try at its artist-in-residence program, one of many events designed to engage the community beyond its collection of storied neon signs. Next, some of the instruments and audio recordings from the experience will be displayed at the Barrick Museum (April 27-May 20).
But for a few days, the live, experimental element at the Boneyard brought complex contemporary art into the hands of those not always likely to seek it out.