JULIAN HOU is an artist based in Vancouver with a background in architecture and music. He holds a Masters in Architecture from the University of British Columbia and a Bachelor’s degree in Art and Culture studies with a minor in Visual Arts from Simon Fraser University. He has recently participated in solo and group exhibitions at the Vancouver Art Gallery; 221A @ Occidental Temporary, Paris; L’escalier, Montreal; CSA Space, the Audain Gallery, Simon Fraser University, and The Apartment, Vancouver. He was a curatorial resident at 221A in 2014, and has co-curated projects at Model Projects, Vancouver with Tiziana La Melia. Hou is also part of The Stick, an ongoing collaborative art music project with writer Michael Loncaric. His writing has been published with the Capilano Review, the Art Book review, textsound and Bartleby Review.
Milman Parry’s Waiting Room Rhapsody
April 1–May 20, 2017
The Guild of Rhapsodes, a wandering band of orators, was most prominent in classical Greece between the 4th to 6th centuries BC. Rhapsode is translated as ‘singer of stitched words’. The craft of the guild conjures up the spectre of Milman Parry, the renowned scholar of epic poetry. Parry’s study of Homeric epic poems and his defence of oral traditions was significant in his argument against the idea of single authorship and questioning of whether so much weight and emphasis be placed on the ‘original text’. The work and craft of the guild required of them to carry a collective responsibility in ensuring the transmission of oral histories in the form of epic poetry. Acting as custodians of these stories, the cultural values and norms within these narratives were mediated through the bodies of the guild.
Waiting rooms encourage you to be still, quiet, patient and contemplative. The stillness is not for your privacy. Other bodies may or may not be present. The furnishings and décor remain non-descript, maybe a little kitsch, certainly inconsequential. They’ve absorbed the energies of all the bodies that have passed through, witnessing, acknowledging a spectrum of states of waiting. Your company includes magazines from several years ago, a water cooler without cups, averting eye contact and a mutual confirmation not to inquire as to the purpose of the other person’s presence. A body forced to wait or a body that willingly waits. How many hours do you think you’ve spent in waiting rooms? (In this lifetime). Being made to wait has the equivalence of being on the cusp of something unknown. The pending conditions of uncertainty have well worn associations to the waiting room as purgatory, a state of limbo. This unknown quantity is detrimental to your need to temper your anxiety. You have to abide by the prescribed code of patience, waiting room etiquette. In your attempt to inhabit and trace the shape of stillness, sound denies that shape. The sound coaxes us elsewhere, from out of a prescribed temporary stasis, out of stillness…
It is impossible to disengage the sound of Milman Parry’s Waiting Room Rhapsody. Though immaterial, it remains ever present. It becomes clear that the hands playing piano have free reign. One can visualize hands registering each key, demonstrating various compositional collisions, reconfiguring jarring approximations. Julian Hou’s loose improvisation is layered with vocal fragments. It’s possible that we’re being addressed, but as the piano composition gains traction, the voice becomes subsumed into the sonic haze. As the form of the composition wanes, the whispering voice re-emerges ‘…waiting for the night to bend…’
Several generic office chairs move as they wish, their wheels entertain a comic mobility as their red upholstery pouts at us. The muted greyish green carpet has a calming effect, with a vague evocation of a melancholic mood. Dedicated lighting for each of the drawings heightens their presence. Each drawing requires a longer engagement. The office chairs offer a moment to settle; to remain and prolong one’s viewing. The rhapsody and the suite of drawings sketch out an indirect affiliation, where attention shifts between the two works. The movement between notes within the composition of the rhapsody guides our contemplation; assisting us in acknowledging the line of the pencil and the weight of the paper. The incremental tensions within the rhapsody, loosen, and ease up. These gestures exist simultaneously, driven by an intuitive yet concentrated impulse. Hands wandering across keys, hands guiding pencil across paper…hands saying what?
Postscript 69: Stacey Ho on Milman Parry’s Waiting Room Rhapsody