[rumori] review: sound art show at Refusalon Gallery

Steev [rumori] review: sound art show at Refusalon Gallery
Mon, 7 Dec 1998 10:00:17 -0800 (PST) (00913053617, Pine.LNX.4.05.9812070850290.28669-100000atflotsam.detritus.net)

I seldom have as much patience for gallery shows as I would like to have.
But one pleasant thing about art in a gallery is that it's usually a very
non-linear, almost interactive experience. One can wander, scan, pause,
and gaze at will, viewing the pieces in whatever order is desired,
skipping over ones that don't immediately catch one's fancy, lingering
over others that hold the attention. This show at Refusalon Gallery, in
downtown san francisco, titled simply SOUND, is both a frustrating
exception and an interesting variant of that characteristic.

First, my expectations: I was hoping to see and hear a bizarre variety of
sculptural devices, actual physical objects that made sound. That, to me,
is well worth the trip to any gallery, and well worth the use of gallery
space, beyond a doubt.

However, the show is an instant visual shock to this expectation, because
of it's total lack of visual elements. It is actually nothing but sound.
Entering the gallery, I was suprised to see only portable CD players
mounted on small shelves around the walls of the room. 17 in all, each
player has a pair of headphones, and a custom cd-r with one track by one
artist (with a couple exceptions). A 4-page handout gives short
explanations of each work. Also, for sale in the next room, are nicely
packaged CDs that contain all the pieces in the show, for your home
listening pleasure.

My immediate reaction was, well, why a gallery? Why not just sell the CD?
I would definitely be able to give more time and attention to each piece
listening comfortably in my living room, rather than standing next to a
wall on a cement floor, staring at the sony discman that refuses to tell
me the total duration of the track. And waiting for another patron
to finish listening to the machine I want to listen to next.

On the other hand, it is an interesting way to present audio art, and I
found myself engaging with the work in a different way than if i had
simply bought a compilation CD in a music store and brought it home.
What's really being addressed by this difference is the contrast between
mass-produced recorded commodity music, and the sound work as a precious
art object on public display.

But how are the actual pieces? Well, overall, I wasnt impressed enough
to purchase a disc. All were professionally executed and none were
what i would call "bad". All of the tracks were in the musique concrete, found-sound sort of vein, or in the "small things amplified" category. The amount of art world sophistication varied considerably, but everything
was pretty much on the discrete and academic end of things - not TOO noisy
and definitely not "band" oriented. However, everything was pretty lo-tech, relatively speaking. This was not "computer music".
The standouts: my favorites by far are the 3 pieces by Brandon LaBelle of
Id Battery. From these piece I actually realized something new about
conceptual art. They were the most conceptual and thus the least neccesary
to own copies of. What I mean by this is the following: the core of
conceptual art is really that the object, the result, is not the important
thing about the work. Rather, the idea, or to put it another way, _the
instructions_ are the important thing. The most effective conceptual art
is that which can be reproduced fairly precisely from its concise
conceptual description. One could probably never paint a satisfying copy
of Van Gogh's "Starry Night" from a verbal description. The value of the painting is in Van Gogh's inexplicable and idiosyncratic "style". However, a conceptual work can be re-executed by anyone, resulting in a work that
is basically identical in all the important ways.

To illustrate this, take LaBelle's piece "aroseisaroseisarose" - His explanation describes how Gertrude Stein originally wrote "A rose is a rose is a rose..." and her ideas about metaphor and romanticism implicit in this phrase. His piece was made by saying the phrase over and over
with a small microphone in his mouth. To hear it is incredible. To
realize it's utter simplicity is amazing. But to know that if I wanted, I
could stick a microphone in my mouth and re-execute the piece anytime I
wanted, is pure revelation and beauty.

I could go on and describe other pieces, many of which were very nice
(other standouts include Paul DeMarinis' "The Lecture of Comrade Stalin at the Extraordinary 8th Plenary Congress about the Draft Concept of the
Constitution of the Soviet Union on November 25, 1936", and Joe Bloggs' "Caroline 14", which is a sort of plunderphonic take on Neil Diamond), but to be honest, the only track I listened to all the way through
is the aformentioned one by LaBelle. I just didnt have the patience.
Maybe I am too jaded. Maybe I've been listening to sound art for too long.
But most of them made me think, "hmm, well I get it" after the first 30 seconds, and then I moved on. Is this a problem with me, or with the art?
I'm not sure. But like I said, I would definitely listen to and enjoy the
entire collection if I had it on my home stereo. Nevertheless, I didnt
think it worth the $15 they were charging for the disc.

Despite the above misgivings, I would recommend the show to any within
easy reach of it. And if you buy a copy of the CD, please send me a
cassette dub.

this has been a S.A.W.C. (Snotty Art World Critique) production,
sponsored by Detritus.net and the International Institute for Jaded
Hipsters. thanx for your attention.

Steev Hise, Subversive Radical Hippy Hacker
steevathise.org http://www.cyborganic.com/people/steev recycled art site: http://www.detritus.net -----------------------------------------------------------------
"The American economy cannot exist unless Americans regard as neccesities what other people regard as luxuries." -Wendell Wilke

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 04 Dec 1998 12:49:16 -0800
From: Erich W. Schienke <erichatfog.com> To: Steev <steevatdetritus.net> Cc: omni-artistsatbarr642.berkeley.edu
Subject: Re: sound art gallery show

The Refusalon gallery is quite a groovy gallery run by some great folks.
(Not hippy dippy at all...) The space is in a basement, so you have to go
through a lobby and down some stairs. Low ceilings, cement floors... etc
keep an eye out, it's kind of easy to miss.

Hawthorne is a small street that runs parallel to second and third st.
between Folsom and Harrison, or is it Harrison and Howard... well somewhere
between those three.

This looks great.


At 11:14 AM 12/4/98 -0800, you wrote:

>with our very own gustavo and a host of other great artists!
>(paul demarinis is amazing....)
>anyone know where hawthorne st. is exactly?
>---------- Forwarded message ----------
>> S O U N D
>>an audio art exhibition
>>3 December - 2 January
>>artists being heard:
>> Joe Bloggs
>> Paul Demarinais
>> Lewis deSoto
>> Bill Fontana
>> Gustavo
>> Doug Harvey
>> Horea
>> Guy Hundere
>> Brandon LaBelle
>> Ati Maier
>> Tom Marioni
>> Guy Overfelt
>> Steve Peters
>> Steve Roden
>> Heather Sparks and Adam Sinykin
>> Jack Tilson
>> Totemplow
>> and Hana Zuckerman
>>opens Thursday, Decemer 3, 6-8pm
>>at Refuslaon Gallery
>>20 Hawthorne Street
>>SF, CA 94105
>>415-546-0158 voice
>>415-546-7081 fax