CONCRETE SOUND GROUND, UNSETTLE, SURROUND: ACT 1 AMERICAN LEDGER NO. 1 LAYERS OF THE CITY IN THE FURY!
CONCRETE SOUND GROUND, UNSETTLE, SURROUND: ACT 1 AMERICAN LEDGER NO. 1 LAYERS OF THE CITY IN THE FURY!
ACOUSTIC RESONANCE ICA AT MECA OCTOBER 2 – DECEMBER 11, 2020
This publication is prepared in conjunction with ACOUSTIC RESONANCE, an exhibition in the Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art from October 2 – December 11, 2020. The exhibition features the work of 11 visual artists and composers, Ryan Adams, Raven Chacon, John Fireman, Matt Joynt + Josh Rios + Anthony Romero, Angel Nevarez + Valerie Tevere, Andrea Ray, Julianne Swartz, and Audra Woloweic, and includes sculpture, video, painting and installations. ACOUSTIC RESONANCE is organized by Director of Exhibitions Julie Poitras Santos in collaboration with Steve Drown, Coordinator of the Bob Crewe Program in Art & Music, realized with Assistant Director Nikki Rayburn, and supported in part by grants from the Crewe Foundation and the Onion Foundation. Special thanks to Designtex for printing Raven Chacon’s work. The Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art features innovative exhibitions and public programs that present new perspectives and trends in contemporary art. Located in stunning galleries in our landmark Porteous Building, the ICA at MECA presents cutting edge work by local, national, and international artists. The ICA is a unique resource for the MECA community, offering insight into artistic practice and first-hand experience with visiting artists.
© Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art. All rights reserved. No part of the contents of this book may be published without the written permission of the Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art. Logo Design: Brittany Martin Catalog Design: Samantha Haedrich Installation Photography: Joel Tsui The Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art 522 Congress Street, Portland, ME 04101 www.meca.edu/ica
STEVE DROWN COORDINATOR OF THE BOB CREWE PROGRAM IN ART AND MUSIC
Our ears give us communication, spatial orientation (a sense of location), an alert system, balance, pleasure, convenient place holders for our eyeglasses and recently masks. All of us don’t have the same hearing acuity but we all have the capacity to listen. Dame Evelyn Glennie, a deaf percussionist, and composer Pauline Oliveros speak of listening with your whole body: your hands, feet, face and chest. I might emphasize that our eyes add greatly to that experience. But can we see sound? We can see the low frequency oscillations of a loudspeaker. We can see musical notation or visual scores and imagine what sounds might be generated. People with chromesthesia associate colors with sounds. For the rest of us, this is where artists come in, making the invisible visible. ACOUSTIC RESONANCE presents works that give us new ways to experience the unseen nature of sound. March through May of 2020 was an alternative to “Silent Spring”. With the sounds of humans greatly diminished, the sounds of nature prevailed. When what we normally hear was absent, our ears turned toward those other sounds that were there the whole time but masked by louder sounds. Spending more time at home has highlighted how loud the refrigerator is and how the noises of the neighbors signal their activities for the day. This time will be remembered for many things but the change in environmental sound is what will stay with me. All of our senses connect to memory but I’ve discovered sonic memory to be particularly strong. When replaying tape recordings of family, unheard since childhood, I’ve found myself occupying those spaces, seeing those people and experiencing those events more clearly than with a photograph, a silent 8 mm film, or an old letter. That solely aural perspective had uncanny detail, which prompted further investigation. Recordings of a car ride from decades ago immediately transported me to the back seat of a station wagon, unable to see over the front seat. Recordings from a new apartment building elicited the rubbery smell of freshly laid shag carpet. What sonic memories will remind us of these times? Speeches, protests, news reports, nature louder than ever, the muffled sound of masked voices, performances with no applause, glitchy audio of video conferencing, the roar of hurricanes and tropical storms, the rage of wildfires, the sounds of children unexpectedly home from school, a quiet playground, silence… It has been a pleasure helping bring this exhibition to life. Julie Poitras Santos did all the heavy lifting and I stepped in to applaud the tremendous choices of artists and works. When the Bob Crewe Program in Art and Music was launched at MECA, a continuum of visual art and aural art could finally be supported. ACOUSTIC RESONANCE brings these together in a clear and powerful way.
JULIE POITRAS SANTOS DIRECTOR OF EXHIBITIONS, ICA AT MECA
It is late September, 2020, and as I write this, more than a million people have died globally due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Sit with that a moment. It is truly an urgent and overwhelming time. Seven months in, we have also witnessed mass protests, sustained resistance to systemic racism, and renewed calls to decolonize our institutions. A series of climate emergencies rolls in with increasing regularity like our rising tides. We heed calls to vote and struggle against the disenfranchisement of our most critical voices. Again and again, we are struck by the urgency of our time and question our role in an insistent and uncertain future. What role should art play? Moving forward with making and showing art in this fragile moment, I am struck both by the challenges and the value of the endeavor. First, and perhaps it goes without saying, our calendars have been thrown into disarray, our sense of time confounded. Artists have had shows canceled and postponed, studios have been let go due to loss of income, institutions have closed their doors—some temporarily, and some permanently. Many of the artists in ACOUSTIC RESONANCE are juggling child care with working from home, or are teaching in the new Covid-19 era, complicated by masks, distancing, hybrid and online coursework. Some have family members who have contracted the virus. Within it all, there has been steady progress, the back and forth of hundreds of emails, and the generosity of artists. As arts institutions, including the ICA at MECA, have reopened I have been moved by the solace and inspiration I’ve found there. To see attentively articulated expressions—a painting carefully produced within the deep and slow time of the studio, for example—in the midst of our chaotic moment has brought relief, a kind of resonant calm and balance. Equally, I’ve been inspired by resistant voices imaginatively presenting alternate futures; hopeful and true. I keep returning to this generosity. Each of the eleven artists in ACOUSTIC RESONANCE has sustained their vision and offered it to us with concomitant aplomb and intelligence, dedicating hundreds of hours to crafting their work, despite it all. For them, I am most grateful for the conversations, vision, and for entrusting us with their work. Equally, I am grateful for my colleague Steve Drown, chair of the Bob Crewe Program in Art and Music at Maine College of Art who has collaborated in the organizing of ACOUSTIC RESONANCE. Always a text away, he assuaged many a technical concern that arose in presenting an exhibition of sound art, kindly caught sight of my linguistic gaffes, and thrilled in supporting artists in their work. One of the aims of the exhibition has been to bring together audiophiles with visual artists, something that Steve does with great care as a regular part of his everyday work.
Exhibition making is always a collective affair, and the ICA would not be able to present ambitious exhibitions without the savvy knowledge and skills of Assistant Director Nikki Rayburn who oversees installation of works in the galleries. Exhibitions Assistant Sarah Sawtelle and staff member Matthew Doucette assist with gallery operations and installation. Samantha Haedrich designed this beautiful catalog in your hands. Finally, we are grateful for the support of the Crewe Foundation and the Onion Foundation. Thank you to all who have contributed to ACOUSTIC RESONANCE. During this time of shifting terrain, I believe the exhibition shares values of resilience, steadiness and visionâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;in seeking and finding resonance, we imagine a new future and artâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s role in it as a generous one, necessary.
1. Audra Wolowiec, Concrete Sound, Cast concrete with pigment 33 x 33 x 6.5 in., 2020 2. Matt Joynt + Josh Rios + Anthony Romero, featuring Autumn Chacon, Ground, Unsettle, Surround: Act 1 (Establishing a Sound), audio installation with rotunda and lectern 29:52 min., 2020 3. Raven Chacon, American Ledger No. 1, printed score on blanket 78 x 60 in., 2018/2020
4. Angel Nevarez + Valerie Tevere, Layers of the City, 4K video, sound, scaffolding, score 24:31 min., 2019 5. Angel Nevarez + Valerie Tevere, Layers of the City (detail), 4K video, sound, scaffolding, score 24:31 min., 2019 6. John Fireman, IN THE FURY!, video 13:03 min., 2018
7. Andrea Ray, Aspirational LPs Series, digital print on cardboard, 12.5 x 12.5 in., 2017 â&#x20AC;&#x201C; She Will Have Been President, Edition 2 of 3, 2020 Expanded Affinities, Edition 2 of 3, 2020 Music for Elective Affinities, Edition 2 of 3, 2020 Free Love, Edition 2 of 3, 2020 Polychronic Feelings, Edition 2 of 3, 2020
8. Audra Wolowiec, AIR, Sound installation with score, vinyl lettering, wooden beams, 5-channel audio with recordings of breath, commas extracted from the United States Constitution, 2020 9. Audra Wolowiec, AIR (detail), Sound installation with score, vinyl lettering, wooden beams, 5-channel audio with recordings of breath, commas extracted from the United States Constitution, 2020
10. Left: Julianne Swartz, Bone Score (Paper Zero), Stainless steel wire, magnet wire, magnet, abaca paper, amplifier, audio player, wood. Sounds of: breathing, a whispered conversation, a timpani drum, rustling paper, a childâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s laugh, a storm, thunder, 26 x 22 x 125 in., 2016. Right: Julianne Swartz, Inhale Exhale Volume, Copper wire, magnet, wood, electronics, sound of breath, 36 x 10 x 9 in., 2020 11. Julianne Swartz, Bone Score (Paper Zero), Stainless steel wire, magnet wire, magnet, abaca paper, amplifier, audio player, wood. Sounds of: breathing, a whispered conversation, a timpani drum, rustling paper, a childâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s laugh, a storm, thunder, 26 x 22 x 125 in., 2016
12. Ryan Adams, I AM HERE, latex paint, 144 x 144 in., 2020 13. Ryan Adams, I AM HERE (detail), latex paint, 144 x 144 in., 2020
AIR ASPIRATIONAL LPS INHALE EXHALE VOLUME BONE SCORE I AM HERE RECAST LIVE ON-AIR
AIR ASPIRATIONAL LPS INHALE EXHALE VOLUME BONE SCORE I AM HERE RECAST LIVE ON-AIR
RYAN ADAMS RAVEN CHACON JOHN FIREMAN MATT JOYNT + JOSH RIOS + ANTHONY ROMERO
ACOUSTIC RESONANCE ICA AT MECA October 2 â&#x20AC;&#x201C; December 11, 2020
Ryan Adams Raven Chacon John Fireman Matt Joynt + Josh Rios + Anthony Romero Angel Nevarez + Valerie Tevere Andrea Ray Julianne Swartz Audra Wolowiec
The Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art www.meca.edu/ica
ACOUSTIC RESONANCE JULIE POITRAS SANTOS, DIRECTOR OF EXHIBITIONS INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY ART AT MECA
ON THE SOUTHERN COAST OF ENGLAND, COASTAL WINDS SWEEP ACROSS THE LOW-LYING headland of Dungeness. Reclaimed from the sea in the 8th century, the Denge Marsh is kept above water by a network of drainage dykes and channels. It is an area of flooded gravel pits and quarries, and incredible ecological diversity; a small hamlet of fishermen live near the Dungeness Nuclear Power Station and three monolithic cement “listening ears” from the early 1900s stand like sentinels surveying the sea. These “ears”—or, Sound Mirrors—reaching up to 16 feet high and 200 feet long, were built in the 1920s and 1930s in order to listen to approaching enemy aircraft. Convex structures, they captured and concentrated sound for an individual who listened with the aid of an ear trumpet and stethoscope, or, later, with a microphone. These remnants of a dead-end technology—they were rapidly displaced by the increased speed of airplanes and the invention of radar—succinctly reveal the relationship between sound and power, sound and transformation, and sound and public space, topics taken up by the artists in ACOUSTIC RESONANCE. Inspired in part by these acoustic mirrors, Audra Wolowiec’s work in ACOUSTIC RESONANCE, Concrete Sound (2020), is part of an ongoing series of sculptural works based on acoustic foam used in sound recording studios and anechoic chambers. Cast from concrete, they consider the physicality of sound. Rather than absorbing sound they return it back into the room off their faceted, repeated forms. Unlike the Sound Mirrors, Concrete Sound does not concentrate and capture the approaching sound of distant aircraft, rather it performs as a resistant material. And while anechoic chambers so completely remove sound as to allow us to hear the machinery of our own bodies rushing and pounding in the labor of living, Concrete Sound performs the opposite task, reflecting our surround and mirroring it back imperfectly, in all of its complexity. The approach of someone or something—like a low-flying aircraft—can inspire the sudden intake of breath, and that inhalation tells us something about the body’s response to its context and also to its own labors. Whether in shock or in preparation, inhaled air is replete with edgy anticipation and the promise of sound, of voice. In Wolowiec’s installation, AIR (2020), viewers wander through an installation of exposed 2x4s, listening to a series of audio works constructed of such breathy interruptions and pauses. The work consists of a score drawn from the Constitution of the United States of America where all language was removed from each page with the exception of the commas. As Wolowiec explains, the comma “in musical notation is the breath mark or luftpause (air-break), the symbol for a performer to take a breath”, and in her work the remaining text of commas was presented to individuals from various fields including singers, actors, Yoga and Lamaze instructors to interpret and translate through the lens of their own training. The score of commas on the wall of the
gallery hangs like hooks on invisible lines. The effect is haunting; a space under construction or being undone, in AIR words never arrive, and the listener is suspended at the edge of that expectant moment in anticipation. For those of us who don’t think often about the materiality of sound, it can be helpful to know that sound is a type of energy, a mechanical wave made by a vibrating object. The vibrations of the object set particles in the surrounding medium in motion, and transport energy through the medium. If your ear is within range of the vibrations, you will hear the sound. “What we call ‘sound’,” notes Diane Ackerman, ”is really an onrushing, cresting, and withdrawing wave of air molecules that begins with the movement of any object, however large or small, and ripples out in all directions.” 1 And while it takes more energy to transmit sound through a liquid or solid, we know intuitively that it happens; once it is set in motion sound will travel more quickly through a medium where the particles are closer together. Anyone who has been to a rave or rock concert knows the visceral effects of sound can be all too palpable. Sound vibrates the body which is made up of, on average, 60% water. In fact, the process of human hearing unfolds through the fluid-filled cochlea transmitting sonic vibrations to cilia, which in turn translate the vibrations to electrical signals that are understood and interpreted by the brain. 1. Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses, (New York: Vintage Books, 1990), 177.
In Julianne Swartz’s Inhale Exhale Volume (2020) an inaudible sound file is played through a saclike sculptural object woven from impossibly thin copper wire. The wire, the consistency of hair looped or tangled in snarls, shudders and vibrates in response. Suspended in the room like a ghostly body, and infused with an alert vulnerability and tenderness, the object calls viewers to attention: increasing our sensitivity to a force we cannot hear or see, and heightening the acts of listening and looking. Bodies among other bodies, we become aware of the limits of our own sensory mechanisms and our vulnerability to what is not known or heard. In the same room, Bone Score (Paper Zero) (2016) rattles in attack and release. The sculpture, made from paper, wire, and magnets, acts “as a functional ‘speaker’ that translates a score of sounds to vibration and gesture” notes Swartz. “The energy of sound is dispersed through both aurality and action.” The sounds in Bone Score (Paper Zero)—breathing, a whispered conversation, a timpani drum, rustling paper, a child’s laugh, a storm, thunder— are subtly audible if you lean in close to listen. If we understand sound as locus around which certain kinds of knowledge are formed, such as language, voice, music, and spatial awareness, the knowledge here again heightens our sensitivity to the power of sound to effect bodies materially as well as psychologically, through both the recognizable and the unfamiliar, and reveals the reflexive nature of sonic vibration that is put in motion both by a moving object and moves objects itself.
IN AUGUST OF 2017, THE US GOVERNMENT BEGAN RECEIVING NEWS THAT DIPLOMATIC personnel in Cuba were experiencing unusual and unexplained medical symptoms. Then President Trump accused Cuba of perpetrating a series of sonic attacks on American citizens. Subsequently referred to as the Havana Syndrome, “the victim would suddenly begin hearing strange grating noises that they perceived as coming from a specific direction,” according to Dan Hurley writing in Neurology Today. “Some of [the individuals] experienced it as a pressure or a vibration; or as a sensation comparable to driving a car with the window partly rolled down.” 2 IN THE FURY! (2018), a hypertextual collage by John Fireman, “may or may not be a documentary about the 2017 acoustic attacks on the American Embassy in Cuba,” Fireman explains. Reveling in the unsolved mysteries of the syndrome and the ensuing news coverage, the film investigates subjects ranging from the first field recording of British Skylarks, Judeo-Christian views on drumming, the history of weaponized sound and sonic warfare, protest rights, gangstalking vlogs, Russian Number Stations, and the frequency content of peacocks screaming. Fireman sources diverse material from the internet, allowing the colliding opinions, suppositions, accusations and experiences of the contemporary digital sphere to inflect and influence our understanding, complicating and amplifying our suspicions and uncertainties regarding the manipulation of story. 2. Dan Hurley, “The Mystery Behind Neurological Symptoms Among US Diplomats in Cuba,” Neurology Today 18, no. 6 (2018): p. 1, 24–26. https://doi.org/10.1097/01. nt.0000532085.86007.9b
Fireman’s documentary reveals footage from ads for the Long Range Acoustic Device produced by the LRAD Corporation (US), and from its use at protests. Essentially a sonic weapon, LRADs were invented in the early 2000s for the US military. The manufacturers have claimed that these acoustic hailing devices and “sound cannons” are designed for long-range communications, but if you’ve heard of or experienced LRAD technology in protests, you know that these devices are now primarily used by law enforcement as a weapon for crowd control, and can inflict long-term hearing damage on the victim. While their use has been challenged in Federal Court 3, LRADs are flooded into local law enforcement via the US Military, 4 adding yet more reasons for recent calls to “defund the police.” 3. Ben Kesslen, “‘Plug Your Ears and Run’: NYPD’s Use of Sound Cannons Is Challenged in Federal Court,” NBCNews.com (NBCUniversal News Group, May 22, 2019), https://www.nbcnews.com/ news/us-news/plug-your-ears-run-nypd-s-use-sound-cannons-challenged-n1008916. 4. Carolyn Birdsall, Paola Antonelli, and Ricky Jackson, “Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD Corporation),” Design and Violence, June 19, 2014, https://www.moma.org/interactives/ exhibitions/2013/designandviolence/long-range-acoustic-device-lrad-corporation/.
In Ground, Unsettle, Surround: Act 1 (Establishing a Sound) (2020), Matt Joynt, Josh Rios, and Anthony Romero expand upon their conceptualization of “sonic territorialization,” the process, they relate, by which “sound, as theory and practice, announces settler authority, signals self-regulation, and enacts liberation within a site and landscape.” As the first in a
new trilogy of works Ground, Unsettle, Surround: Act 1 (Establishing a Sound) pulls from field recordings of recent Black Lives Matter protests, contemporary police action, dialogues, original instrumentation, and features a new sound composition by Autumn Chacon. Played from a series of speakers arranged around an empty lectern, the work invites the viewer to step “inside” of the constructed soundscape, witness to the multivalent sonic layers of contemporary public and private space. The work begins with the sound of helicopters overhead. Captured in field recordings from the Decolonize Zhigaagoong Protest in Grant Park, Chicago on July 17th, 2020, the audio establishes the oppressive qualities of sound as a colonizing force that claims space by surveilling individuals from above with military machinery. Black, Brown and Indigenous organizers in Chicago have been leading a movement to restore native lands to Indigenous people who lived in the area before they were forcibly removed by the US military 5 as a direct result of the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Zhigaagoong in Anishnaabemowin language refers to the unceded territory east of Michigan Avenue in the city. Moving through the work, we hear from different theorists, radical thinkers, and indigenous activists, including Fred Moten, Angie Morrill, Eve Tuck, and the Super Futures Haunt Qollective. Reflecting on the soundscape of contemporary police repression and the sonic insurgency of resistance practices, the work reveals how protest reclaims sonic space, effectively meeting and countervailing the military lens with one of resistance. 5. Published by CPN Public Information Office, “Citizen Potawatomi Nation,” Citizen Potawatomi Nation, November 6, 2013, https://www.potawatomi.org/an-unsettling-legacy-the-war-of-1812and-the-removal-treaties-of-the-1830s/. (cf. https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/ obo-9780199827251/obo-9780199827251-0199.xml)
Artist Ryan Adams notes his practice began within the world of graffiti, one of the most direct forms of reclaiming public space with personal expression. “When thinking about what attracted me to that art form, it became evident that I was visually screaming “I am here!” at the top of my lungs in order to try and stand out amongst the sea of people occupying my surroundings,” he says. This effort to claim space and be heard, is reflected in the 12’ x 12’ mural occupying the front gallery of the ICA, visible from the street outside. The brightly colored geometric patterning codes the text I AM HERE (2020) within its forms, simultaneously loud and hidden. While not sound art, per se, Adams’ work articulates the challenges of claiming space and being seen in an ofttimes inhospitable or outright dangerous public setting for a person of color. In his “gems” series, texts hide in plain sight, articulating their message to those who take the time to see it. As vibrant interventions around Portland, they transform our city scape, claiming space through scale, presence and voice. In his essay, “Sound Art in America: Cage and Beyond”, Christoph Cox notes that recently “sound artists have attuned themselves to the political potentials of sound, examining the
role of the sonic in what philosopher Jacques Rancière has called ‘the distribution of the sensible’ in social space, and employing sound as a means of altering that distribution.” 6 Rancière’s proposal, Cox notes, is “that every social space is aesthetic insofar as it determines what and who can be seen and heard, and, conversely, what is forced to remain silent or invisible.” 7 As with Ground, Unsettle, Surround: Act 1 (Establishing a Sound), artists are organizing listening as a means to amplify strategy and make audible—or in Adams’ case, visible—the sonic politics of our public spaces. 6. Christoph Cox. “Sound Art in America: Cage and Beyond.” In Sound Art, ed. Peter Weibel and Linnea Semmerling, 60–62. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press/ZKM, 2019. 7. Christoph Cox. “Sound Art in America: Cage and Beyond.” In Sound Art, ed. Peter Weibel and Linnea Semmerling, 60–62. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press/ZKM, 2019.
As with murals that transform our surroundings, the work of Angel Nevarez and Valerie Tevere considers how song might transform our cities. In Layers of the City (2019), Nevarez and Tevere ask, “How might we sing our way through the transformation of place?” As artists-inresidence at the Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana, CA, they learned about immigrantowned spaces that were being pushed out by rising rents and urban revitalization plans. “These are the stories of so-called urban renewal and gentrifying processes”, they note. “The stories of Santa Ana are the stories of Sunset Park in Brooklyn, of Pilsen in Chicago, and of Boyle Heights in Los Angeles– neighborhoods where real estate speculation supersedes communities.” Their work reminds us that as we witness a real growth in empty storefronts due to the economic challenges of a pandemic, we must ever more urgently consider the value of our communities and how we can support our diversity and continuation in the face of “revitalization” plans that privilege only a certain sector of the population. Nevarez and Tevere held an open call for local singers and musicians and wrote a cumulative song that participants performed throughout the city. The song builds in layers, so that by the end, a larger collective of bodies and voices comes together. “We see this structure as metaphoric to the transformation of place—with the addition of new entities and inhabitants come modification and reduction. The intention of our song is to speak of the addition and transformation of forms, populations, and architectures.” Nevarez and Tevere tell and retell place in Layers of the City, amplifying the stories of those who live in Santa Ana, rendering the city legible as a series of inscriptions, and making that text—or score—audible and visible to us in the galleries of the ICA at Maine College of Art. Echoing experiences here on the other side of the country, Layers of the City invites us to discern and read our own city’s histories and future songs.
IN TODAY’S URBAN LANDSCAPES WE SIFT THROUGH MYRIAD OVERLAPPING SOUNDSCAPES to navigate our way through contemporary life; the rural soundscape is punctuated by nearby highways and overhead cross-continental flights. John Cage’s 1952 work, 4’33’’, famously sought to provoke listening on the part of the audience by making audible the real noisiness of silence. Through this and other works like his compositions for the prepared piano—placing household objects like coins, bolts and screws onto or between the wires of the percussive instrument to change its harmonic capacities—Cage was a major progenitor of sound art in America. He attuned our ears to hear more and to understand sound as a material, and he reveled in the variable sounds of life around us. In Raven Chacon’s work for ACOUSTIC RESONANCE, American Ledger No. 1 (2018), the sounds of American history are evoked to create a composition that narrates the creation story of the founding of the United States of America. A composer and visual artist, Chacon has created a graphic score to be interpreted by musicians and non-musicians together, inviting the performers to use an axe and wood, a police whistle, coins, and a match along with sustaining and percussive instruments to interpret the score. The graphic notation places much of the burden of interpretation on the performers, inviting them to “read” the geometric line drawings paired with more traditional musical notation. As with some of his other works, American Ledger No. 1 has the potential to complicate or confound assumptions and biases regarding the sound of the performed work based on the open-ended qualities of the graphic notation of the piece, or the players’ knowledge of the composer as an Indigenous artist (Chacon is from Fort Defiance, Navajo Nation). As Chacon describes the work, “moments of contact, enactment of laws, events of violence, the building of cities, and erasure of land and Indigenous worldview are mediated through graphic notation.” American Ledger No. 1 recalls American history as a sequence of sounds brought forward for our consideration. The score, “to be displayed as a flag, a wall, a blanket, a billboard, or a door” by design, is printed on a tan military blanket for the exhibition in the ICA. The blanket as substrate bears a multitude of complex and conflicting meanings; potentially a source of comfort and warmth, or a source of subterfuge, the work bears in its codes narratives regarding moments of contact, and brings to mind harrowing stories 8 of disease-ridden blankets that were offered to Indigenous people that contributed to the devastating smallpox epidemic of 1837–38. The work teaches us a new way to envision and tell history by imagining the sonic remnants as records of our past. 8. Some historians dispute narratives regarding the “gift” of infected blankets, but not the arrival of new pathogens with European colonizers that contributed to the genocide of upwards of 50–60 million individuals on the American continent. Regardless, the blanket as symbolic of an early American form of biowarfare remains. See https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2094753/ ; https://web.stanford.edu/dept/HPS/MayorSmallpox.pdf ; https://www.ijidonline.com/article/S1201-9712(04)00130-4/fulltext.
“WHAT A STRANGE CHAOS IS THIS WIDE ATMOSPHERE WE BREATHE!” CRIED CHARLES Babbage in 1837 London. Convinced that if we could truly understand our past, we would be able to calculate more accurately our future, he claimed “The air itself is one vast library, on whose pages are forever written all that man has ever said or woman whispered.” Considering sound as history, we can imagine that all sound continues to reverberate in the universe long after we can hear it. Confident that every utterance, along with every act, remained impressed forever on the earth and air, Babbage was certain that no cruelty would pass unnoted, nor no kindness. A component of artist Andrea Ray’s research for her work, The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise by Babbage adds poetic complexity to the notion of sound as history. Ray’s work invites us to consider, what if our speech remained in airwaves and could be heard across time? Ray takes up this thought experiment in her audio play, ReCast LIVE ON-AIR (2018), allowing people from across 200 years to share their experiences on a fictive radio station, WPPF (Past Potential Future), played on our local radio station, WMPG, during ACOUSTIC RESONANCE. The radio guests represent “19th century free love, recent polyamory, and newer relationship anarchy” and are brought into conversation with Ray’s own future-form, “expanded affinities”. Debating the egalitarian nature of alternative forms of love, the characters assess the troubling compulsion toward hetero-monogamy. In other works, Ray has also considered utopian communities and feminist strategies for superseding normative definitions of belonging and attachment. She explains, “Sounding like voices from an outer ring of space, the relationship radicals reject the charmed circle and the linearity of the relationship escalator that ascends from dating, to love, to marriage, and then children. Spectators commune in a futuristic radio station that resists forms of ‘straight time’.” In the galleries, Andrea Ray’s Aspirational LPs (2017–) series invites viewers to imagine music that has “yet to have been” realized. The album covers rest on a low shelf for viewers to pick up and view; while empty of vinyl they are complete with song lists and liner notes. The LPs remind us of earlier technologies and at the same time invent a possible new music. Using the future perfect tense, Ray refers to writings on queerness by José Esteban Muñoz. She explains, “Many of the series’ titles pull from former radical ideas not fully made manifest, at least not in an historical long-term and consequential or sweeping way. My research into free love communities reveal hopes for radical transformations of society with ideas so radical that they’ve yet to find their time in history and might also be described in Muñoz’s terms as that which will have been.” The Aspirational LPs series reveals an urgent desire to commune with others; to listen, discuss, invent and reimagine a future together. Visual artists, like musicians, have used sound as a medium to shape and construct, and in so doing have sought to transform a viewer-listener’s experience. During the Covid-19 pandemic, it has become clearer than ever that the air is public space. Within our shared spaces, we distance ourselves to keep safe and raise our voices to be heard. Sound travels through the air, it carries across neighborhoods, and through barriers; it can claim a space,
move a body, or transform a city—even at a distance it communicates our longings for each other and our desires for change. For Muñoz, queerness is a mode of desiring that allows us to feel beyond the predicament of the present; queerness exists as potentiality and a means to imagine the future; tools we can all use to manifest a different world. ACOUSTIC RESONANCE foregrounds the power of sound to connect and transform us. Investigating sound as artistic medium, subject, and tool for change, the works talk about power, transformation, public space and social space, and evince vulnerability and toughness, resilience. As for the future, sometimes we have to listen hard to hear it, but it’s there, awaiting our song.
RYAN ADAMS is a Portland, Maine artist, born and raised, where he lives with his artist and designer wife and their two daughters. His background in traditional graffiti led him to creating large-scale mural work as well as hand lettered design and signage. His signature ‘gem’ style of work is a geometric breakdown of letterforms with shadows and highlights included in order to create depth and movement throughout the pieces. His pieces tend to be bold, colorful and clever; often including statements within. Currently, Ryan co-owns and operates a hand painted signage business, designs for a brewery, paints murals all around the Northeast and exhibits his work as often as possible. Ryan Adams, I AM HERE, latex paint, 144 x 144 in., 2020
RAVEN CHACON is a composer, performer and installation artist from Fort Defiance, Navajo Nation. As a solo artist, collaborator, or with Postcommodity, Chacon has exhibited or performed at Whitney Biennial, documenta 14, REDCAT, Musée d’art Contemporain de Montréal, San Francisco Electronic Music Festival, Chaco Canyon, Ende Tymes Festival, 18th Biennale of Sydney, and The Kennedy Center. Every year, he teaches 20 students to write string quartets for the Native American Composer Apprenticeship Project (NACAP). He is the recipient of the United States Artists fellowship in Music, The Creative Capital award in Visual Arts, The Native Arts and Cultures Foundation artist fellowship, and the American Academy’s Berlin Prize for Music Composition. He lives in Albuquerque, NM. Raven Chacon, American Ledger No. 1, printed score on blanket, 78 x 60 in., 2018/2020
JOHN FIREMAN is an artist focusing on new media, including documentary film, video, sound, installation, interactivity, and live performance. He has received degrees from Yale University, New York University, and the Maine College of Art, where he is currently an adjunct professor. John Fireman, IN THE FURY!, video 13:03 min., 2018
MATT JOYNT is a Chicago-based composer and artist whose work engages the multivalent political histories of sound, sonic archives, and sound as site. His composition projects for film have premiered at Sundance Film Festival, Telluride Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, IFC New York, SXSW Film Festival, and The Gene Siskel Film Center and have been featured extensively in media work for The New York Times, The New Yorker, and PBS Independent Lens. Collaborative projects—as a member of InCUBATE and with Josh Rios and Anthony Romero— have been exhibited at The Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago), Pulitzer Art Foundation, Smart Museum of Art (Chicago), Luminary Arts (St. Louis), Autzen Gallery at Portland State University (Portland), The Devos Museum at Northern Michigan University (Marquette) and Columbia College Center for Book and Paper Arts (Chicago). In Fall 2019,
“The Siren and Social Space: an Essay in Fourteen Stanzas”, written with Josh Rios, was published in the third issue of ON Journal, Rules. JOSH RIOS is faculty at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he teaches courses in visual critical studies and research-based practice. As a media artist, writer, and educator his projects deal with the histories, archives, and futurities of Latinx subjectivity and US/ Mexico relations as understood through globalization and neocoloniality. Recent projects and presentations have been featured at The Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts (Omaha), the Blue Star Contemporary (San Antonio), Konsthall C (Stockholm), Tufts University Art Galleries (Boston), The School of Visual Art (New York), DiverseWorks (Houston), The Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art (Overland Park), The Luminary (St. Louis), and the Sullivan Galleries at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago). Upcoming work will be featured at The Vincent Price Art Museum (Los Angeles). ANTHONY ROMERO is a Boston-based artist, writer, and organizer committed to documenting and supporting artists and communities of color. Recent projects and performances have been featured at The Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts (Omaha), the Blue Star Contemporary (San Antonio), and the Mountain Standard Time Performative Art Biennial (Calgary, Canada). Publications include The Social Practice That Is Race, coauthored with Dan S. Wang, and the exhibition catalogue Organize Your Own: The Politics and Poetics of Self-Determination Movements, of which he was the editor. He is a co-founder of the Latinx Artist Visibility Award, a national scholarship for Latinx artists produced in collaboration with artist J. Soto and OxBow School of Art, and a cofounder of the Latinx Artists Retreat, a national gathering of Latinx artists and administrators. He is Professor of the Practice at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University, Boston and is currently a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. AUTUMN CHACON is a Dine/Chicana multimedia and performance artist from the Southwestern United States. Using new media, Chacon considers herself a traditional storyteller—not because she tells traditional stories but because she strives to find traditional philosophy in all contemporary stories and experiences. Often using electronic sound and unconventional use of radio frequencies Chacon creates environments where an interactive audience is free to control how much of her art they would like to receive. Chacon is also a farmer and agriculturist who uses food as a living medium. Josh Rios, Anthony Romero, & Matt Joynt, featuring Autumn Chacon, Ground, Unsettle, Surround: Act 1 (Establishing a Sound), audio installation with rotunda and lectern, 29:52 min., 2020
ANGEL NEVAREZ AND VALERIE TEVERE are interdisciplinary artists whose practice spans over eighteen years of projects that actuate music and sound, radio, dissent, and the cultural complexities of the public sphere. The artists have produced works in video installation, lyric writing, and performance. Their research interests lie in the intersection between music, civic
action, and historical moments that resonate through distinct musical instrumentation and sonorous traditions. Nevarez and Tevere have exhibited and screened their work at The Museum of Modern Art, The Guggenheim Museum, Creative Time, New Museum, and Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York; Manifesta 8/Spain; Museo Raúl Anguiano, Guadalajara, Mexico; Casino Luxembourg, LU; Henie Onstad Art Centre, Høvikodden, Norway; Taxispalais, Innsbruck, Austria, and elsewhere. The first US survey of their work was exhibited at Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia in 2016. They have received fellowships and awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, Creative Capital, Harpo Foundation, Art Matters, National Endowment for the Arts, and Franklin Furnace. Both Nevarez and Tevere were Studio Fellows at The Whitney Museum’s Independent Study Program, artists-in-residence at the International Artists Studio Program in Sweden, and recently at Pioneer Works, Brooklyn, and Grand Central Art Center, Santa Ana, California. Upcoming residencies and projects include Marble House Project in Vermont and Antenna Works in New Orleans, LA. Nevarez (b. Mexico City, Mexico) is a musician and part-time faculty at The New School/ Parsons School of Design, New York; Tevere (b. Chicago, IL, USA) received an MFA in photography from California Institute of the Arts and is Professor of Media Culture at the College of Staten Island /City University of New York. Angel Nevarez + Valerie Tevere, Layers of the City, 4K video, sound, scaffolding, score 24:31 min., 2019
ANDREA RAY has a cross-disciplinary art practice which includes writing, installation, and sound. Focusing on the possibility of collapsing time through affective contact between history and people, Ray’s work seeks to produce a space of unknowing through the disruption of time and the “normative” in an attempt to create an open position from which a subject is placed in the possibility of dreaming—dreaming of a fresh ground of resistance from who we think we must be. Ray has exhibited at IAC in Malmö; Wesleyan University’s Zilkha Gallery in Connecticut; Sculpture Center, Apex Art, P.S.1 Clocktower Gallery, and White Columns in New York; Skissernas Museum, and Wanås Foundation in Sweden, as well as venues in Dublin, Brussels, and Turin. Ray is an Art Matters Fellow and is a two-time recipient of New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowships. Residency awards include P.S. 1 MoMA, MacDowell Colony, and Cité des Arts, Paris. Ray’s work has been included in Art Forum, BOMB Magazine, Zing Magazine, The New York Times, and Art News. Ray completed the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program and received a PhD in Fine Art from the Malmö Art Academy in 2018. Andrea Ray lives and works in New York.
Andrea Ray, Aspirational LPs series, digital print on cardboard 12.5 x 12.5 in., 2017 – She Will Have Been President, Edition 2 of 3, 2020. Expanded Affinities, Edition 2 of 3, 2020. Music for Elective Affinities, Edition 2 of 3, 2020. Free Love, Edition 2 of 3, 2020. Polychronic Feelings, Edition 2 of 3, 2020
JULIANNE SWARTZ creates immersive, multi-sensory installations, sculptures, and photographs. Her work synthesizes light, air, and sound into ephemeral and participatory experiences. Exhibition venues include: the Tate Liverpool Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the New Museum, the Jewish Museum, New York, MoMA PS1, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Israel Museum, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Art Gallery of Western Australia. A Percent for Art permanent commission for the City of New York was completed in 2019. This project, Four Directions From Hunters Point, consists of four optical portals embedded in the walls and ceiling of a new construction library in Queens, NY, designed by architect Steven Holl. Awards include the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, Anonymous Was a Woman fellowship, American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Joan Mitchell Foundation and New York Foundation for the Arts. Julianne Swartz, Inhale Exhale Volume, Copper wire, magnet, wood, electronics, sound of breath, 36 x 10 x 9 in., 2020 Julianne Swartz, Bone Score (Paper Zero), Stainless steel wire, magnet wire, magnet, abaca paper, amplifier, audio player, wood. Sounds of: breathing, a whispered conversation, a timpani drum, rustling paper, a child’s laugh, a storm, thunder, 26 x 22 x 125 in., 2016
AUDRA WOLOWIEC is an interdisciplinary artist based in New York whose work oscillates between sculpture, installation, text and performance with an emphasis on sound and the material qualities of language. Wolowiec’s work has been shown internationally and in the United States at MASS MoCA, CCS Bard Hessel Museum, Stony Brook University, Art in General, and Studio 10. Readings and events have taken place at The Poetry Project, Microscope Gallery, and Center for Performance Research. Her work has been featured in BOMB Magazine, Modern Painters, The New York Times, The Brooklyn Rail, CAA Journal, and Sound American. Residencies include Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, Complex Systems Art and Physics Residency at the University of Oregon supported by a National Science Foundation Grant, and Dieu Donné. Wolowiec received a BFA from the University of Michigan and MFA in sculpture from the Rhode Island School of Design. She currently teaches at Parsons School of Design and SUNY Purchase. She is the founder and director of the publishing platform Gravel Projects. Audra Wolowiec, Concrete Sound, Cast concrete with pigment, 33 x 33 x 6.5 in., 2020 Audra Wolowiec, AIR, Sound installation with score, vinyl lettering, wooden beams, 5-channel audio with recordings of breath, commas extracted from the United States Constitution, 2020
ANGEL NEVAREZ + VALERIE TEVERE ANDREA RAY JULIANNE SWARTZ AUDRA WOLOWIEC