The Eyes of the Skin: Art and the Senses
On View Saturday, February 12–Sunday, May 22, 2011
In his book The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa argues against the isolating ocular-centric paradigm in western culture and its impact on phenomenology in favor of a more holistic model of multi-sensory architecture of integration. The series of exhibitions The Eyes of the Skin: Art and the Senses shifts the focus from visually based art toward work that is grounded in the other senses of sound, smell, taste and touch as a way of exploring and articulating ideas as well as space.
The philosophy of Phenomenology is concerned with understanding and experiencing our world through our senses—a more subjective avenue of interpretation than the quantitative and objective world of hard science. For this series of exhibitions we are looking to shift the phenomenological archetype from one of a reliance on vision to a more inclusive model that illuminates the realms of the auditory, olfactory, gustatory and tactile. The intention is to expand the spectrum of experience to embody those senses that are often marginalized in favor of the ocular-centric prototype that has been the primary mode of expression since Paleolithic cave paintings.
Our first exhibition, Sound, is an investigation into what the communication theorist Marshall McLuhan calls the re-casting of technology with which to understand and act on the world. The three artists: Mark Shepard, J.T. Rinker and Alexandra Spaulding utilize different aural modalities but also different lenses through which to cultivate and express acoustical information. For Pallasmaa, sound creates an “acoustic intimacy” a way of negotiating lived and experienced space by “carving volume into the void of darkness” and place. It’s only recently that new technologies have enabled artists to appropriate and re-contextualize what has always been considered ambience or temporary acoustic resonance. This exhibition contains a series of gestural works that move toward capturing and illuminating this most elusive sensorial experience.
Shepard’s Hertzian Rain is a variable event structure designed to raise awareness of issues surrounding the wireless topography of urban environments through telematic conversations based on sound and bodily movement. It addresses a competition for signal dominance through a participatory scenario for real-time, asymmetrical communication between sound makers (sound artists, DJs, spoken word performers) and sound listeners (an audience)—or myriad hybrids thereof.
Live audio from multiple sound makers is streamed from a set of wireless transmitters placed at opposing sides of an urban space. The transmitters broadcast these streams locally on the same radio frequency to a group of participants wearing wireless headphones tuned to this frequency. Because the transmitters broadcast on the same local frequency, a zone of interference is created where multiple audio streams compete for signal dominance.
Participants carry umbrellas made of electromagnetic field (EMF) shielding fabric that enable them to actively shape the surrounding environment of radio waves. By orienting the umbrella in different ways, one is able to filter the interfering radio signals and select a single audio stream to listen to. The dominance of the streams become mercurial and emergent—layered in modalities that shift from the sonorous to the cacophonous to the melodious. Based on the interaction of the sound and the crowd; the ambience becomes the point of contact and the field of engagement. The experience is like a night on the town as the participants glide through the museum waltzing their way through myriad soundscapes emanating from their umbrellas. Performances of Hertzian Rain that encourage audience participation are at 3:00pm on Sunday, February 13, Sunday, March 27 and Sunday, April 10.
Rinker’s soliloquy (variation on a theme of Alvin Lucier) is designed to reveal the phenomenon of bone conduction as a method for receiving audio information—the same phenomenon that is exploited in current phone headset technologies and home theater systems. The title refers primarily to the use of voices in the piece (including Alvin Lucier’s voice). The audio image of one’s own voice is different from what is received by others in large part due to bone conduction—the ergonomic relationship between the inner ear and the bones of the skull that convey sound. It is also the reason most people hear their recorded voice as being different than the audio image of their voice. Rinker strives to embody a different voice -that of a composer who is interested in the poetics of acoustics. The subtitle refers to a specific Lucier piece entitled Music on a Long Thin Wire. Lucier’s work deals more with the phenomenon of a vibrating wire in a feedback loop. The tone generators in “soliloquy” approach the metal bar itself as an acoustic object with its own resonances and behaviors.
The long metal bar mounted on the wall is connected to several tranducers (converted loudspeakers) that vibrate the bar with several different sound sources including voices and tone generators. People are invited to interact with the sculpture by placing their forehead against a portion of the bar. Through this connection -via bone conduction - the vibrations of the bar are made audible, or more clearly audible. The individual becomes the vessel for lifting the sound out of the wall and into their body, thus physically capturing sonic phenomena—a lovely and meaningful imbrication between the aural and the corporeal.
Spaulding’s when you take everything away, the only thing left is imperfection is an investigation into the isolated listening experience—both physically and metaphorically. The piece straddles a place between the ubiquitous materials of everyday life and the transitory nature of the ephemeral. By upending the viewer’s expectations of material objects as well as “music” the piece explores the confluence of pristine quotidian objects and a discordant and strident soundscape.
The intermodal shipping container is a vessel of movement—it moves products and raw materials from one country to another. Yet it occupies a monolithic stance, seeming to be static and solid and unyielding. Spaulding plays off that trope by inviting viewers to enter into her vessel only to be met with a Barcelona chair, turntable and headphones, a personal sound studio. It’s an invitation to sit, listen and be taken on an unexpected aural journey. The tracks themselves are both stationary and static - they buzz, hum, pop, crackle and snap in and out of rhythm in a way that is both unnerving and meditative.
Spaulding is interested in the isolated listening experience—from both physical and metaphorical perspectives. The container separates the audience from the rest of the space and the headphones create even further segregation. The focal point becomes the relationship that the viewer/listener establishes within the aural immersive environment. It houses both structure and unease—environmental symmetry and auditory dissonance.
—Stefani Bardin, February 2011