Saturday, April 15, 2017

Imagining Sound at Central Features Contemporary Art

Photo by Suzanna Finley

My Sonic Fabric project (textile woven from cassette tape recorded with collages of sound) has been ongoing since the turn of the century. When it first began, I was adamant that it should be used to make things that can be touched and used in everyday life...I didn't want it to be treated like a precious object. 

(An aside: when I first moved to NYC with the original small pieces of fabric, I brought it to one of Louise Bourgeois' Sunday afternoon salons...when I showed it to Louise she said, "WHAT DOES IT DO?" I said, "It's for rituals!" She said, "THEN DO A RITUAL.")

The main idea for me was that each edition of fabric contained stored memory...trapped sound...a record of a moment in time that could only be accessed by imagining it. I would literally weave together sounds that might not otherwise be heard simultaneously...noises, music, spoken word from different parts of the highlight the idea that all of these things are part of a single fabric. 

But it quickly became clear that people WANTED to experiment with the fabric's still-magnetic properties...and if the garbled sound that the fabric emits when a tape head is drawn across its surface is of interest, who was I to say, "Sorry, no, that's not what it's really about"? It was a treat to me that other people were gaining enjoyment from it. And so the device that activates the audible properties of the material became part of the project. 

As I have learned and my ideas have evolved over the course of the past 17 years, I have realized that:

1. Pieces that have been made from Sonic Fabric are treated as precious no matter how much I might want them not to be. 

2. That the fabric emits sound is irrelevant, and actually detracts from the concept.

3. The project reaches its fullest potential as part of collaborative efforts. 

By far the most successful Sonic Fabric project thus far happened in Galicia in collaboration with Galician musicians, students, and only role was to supply the idea and facilitate the production of the yardage...the sounds and music contained within, as well as the resulting works (garments based on traditional Galician costume), were entirely the vision of others with whom it was a joy and an honor to work. 

Over these many years it has also been a delight to work with my dear and extremely talented friend Julio Cesar whose idea it was to make a wearable object...namely one that is worn by those who often find themselves in positions of power...from Sonic Fabric. Julio's elegant yet subtly subversive vibe-emitting neckties are infiltrating boardrooms, courtrooms, gala events, and ivory towers around the world. 

I have only a very small amount of Sonic Fabric yardage left, and no plans to make more anytime soon (it is woven at a small family-run textile mill in New England and its manufacture is quite a resource-intensive undertaking). So when the opportunity arose to include Sonic Fabric in the Imagining Sound exhibition at Central Features Contemporary Art, I decided to do something I've never done with Sonic Fabric before: I stretched it on bars like canvas. In this form it is a precious object on white walls, as I had never intended. But visitors are imagining the sound contained within, as I always hoped they would. 

The journeys on which each project seems to lead...the magnitude learned, paradoxes revealed, obstacles confronted, and alliances made along the way...are what one sees (or hears) in experiencing a creative practitioner's "work". For me these things constitute a driving force and are the impetus to continue.