The Collection

4' 33" (Prepared Pianola for Roger Bannister)

Mel Brimfield

4' 33" (Prepared Pianola for Roger Bannister)

© Mel Brimfield
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ArtistMel Brimfield (Born 1976)
Title4' 33" (Prepared Pianola for Roger Bannister)
MediumSix elements and music: 1: modified pianola with perspex cover and gloss paint; 2: wooden cabinet with upper and lower doors (upper door with metal grill), painted with gloss paint, containing various musical instruments and ballrace mechanism with external start button; 3: four gloss-painted horns mounted on top of cabinet; 4: framed archival inkjet print, gouache painting and end of original pianola roll with letterpress additions, all on fabric backing attached with brass drawing pins; 5: framed archival inkjet print, on fabric backing attached with brass drawing pins. 6: wall text. Music performed by automated mechanism in cabinet followed by pianola score.
Provenancethe artist (commission)
Exhibition'Government Art Collection: Commissions: Now and Then', Whitechapel Gallery, London 21 June to 9 September 2012; 'Revealed: Government Art Collection', Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, 17 November 2012 to 24 February 2013, Ulster Museum, Belfast, 15 March to 9 June 2013; 'Time and Sport' Olympic Museum, Lausanne, Switzerland 4 June 2014 to 18 Jan 2015
DimensionsPianola: 155 cm x 142 cm x 74 cm; cabinet: 213.5 cm x 82.3 cm x 82.3 cm; 2 wall pieces each 120 cm x 120 cm x 4 cm
AcquisitionCommissioned from the artist, 2011-2012
LocationUK, London, Government Art Collection
GAC number18429

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This work by Mel Brimfield was commissioned by the Government Art Collection for the exhibition, 'Commissions: Now and Then', held at the Whitechapel Gallery, London from June to September 2012. Brimfield's presentation consists of a prepared pianola (a self-playing piano), a 'ball run' system triggered by visitors to the gallery, and related documents. "4'33", a 1952 composition by US experimental composer John Cage (1912-1992), is referenced in the title but not played. The actual score for the pianola takes as its starting point, athlete Roger Bannister's performance in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics where he came fourth - the race that spurred him on to his sub 4 minute mile. The battle during the race for the lead, fragments of national anthems and echoes of theme tunes to British television sports programmes are all referenced. Brimfield's practice investigates performance art - from standup comedy to dance, theatre and political activism - and often relies on second-hand anecdotes or made-up stories that she further distorts creating a new fiction.


Pianola Consultant and Build: Rex Lawson

Percussive Switch: Giles Walker

Letter Press and Print: Ryan Gillard

Composer: Paul Higgs

Producer: Keri Elmsly

Original Score by Paul Higgs with an excerpt from 'Pop Looks Bach' by Sam Fonteyn(copyright 1970 Cavendish Music Co Ltd.) Excerpt used by permission of Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers Ltd.

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