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Let’s Make the Water Turn Black

Let’s Make the Water Turn Black, Geoffrey Farmer’s most technically ambitious work to date, was a mechanical ‘sculpture-play’ performed across two galleries at Nottingham Contemporary between 12 October 2013 and 5 January 2014.

Over 70 found material- and salvaged movie prop- sculptures were presented as an ensemble on a large single platform connecting the two spaces. The work remained unique and unpredictable on each day of the exhibition. A sequence of animated movements under changing coloured light were determined by a self-generating musical score, re-composed daily according to a computer algorithm. 

Named after an iconic 1968 Frank Zappa track, Let’s Make the Water Turn Black was anchored in Zappa’s avant-garde, musique concrète-inspired approach to rock. Its light and movement sequences were organised around a library of collected musical samples, Foley sounds and field recordings which relate to Zappa’s influences, the physical environment he once occupied, and Farmer’s interpretations of Zappa’s biography. 

The result of an involved research process, the project further develops Farmer’s approach to excavating large zones of obscured cultural memory, mixing these with personal insights and events from his own life. Farmer’s compositional techniques reference William S Burroughs, Kathy Acker and Edgar Varèse as well as ‘Zappalogical’ concepts of musical time - such as Xenochrony. Presented in its emerging form at the REDCAT Gallery in Los Angeles in 2011, Let’s Make the Water Turn Black (2013) was realised through a commission by Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst in Zürich, Nottingham Contemporary, Kunstverein Hamburg and Pérez Art Museum Miami.  

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