Sounds Like Art
SFCA (South Florida Composers Alliance) is one of the most underrated marvels of Miami. For more than a decade, this organization has presented its annual Subtropics Festival -- at number fifteen this year. Artists like Sonny Rollins, John Cage, Don Pullen, Robert Ashley, Pauline Oliveiros, and other nonconformists, electronica mavericks, and cyber-poets have come -- from all over the country -- to Miami to perform for the love of sound experimentation.
"Sound is and means everything here," says Gustavo Matamoros, the festival's director. "It is a record of human activity and it means history. As long as there are ears, there is sound, but many people don't understand it." A well-known local composer and performer, Matamoros speaks with the knowledge of having dedicated half his life to the study of sound.
Why is all this relevant to art? Because since the Futurist experiments of Luigi Russolo's "Intonorumori," but particularly since Fluxus, sound as such has been considered art. Not "music" but "sound," as in anything audible, including silence. Many artists are not as keen on sound and miss its challenging implications for art. "If you think of sound as an object without mass, then the mechanics for working with sound are equivalent to those working for art," concludes Matamoros.
So we checked out William Tells of Rights, Matamoros's installation, next to the main entrance of the organization's new home, the Sound Arts Workshop (SAW). A spoken text comes out of a speaker while a snare rolls an rrrrrrr sound at two-second intervals. Nothing touches the drum's skin. Instead a second speaker is placed underneath the drums shouting the word "rights" -- as if pronounced by a German native -- sending vibrations that make the snare roll. Next is a little speaker emitting whispered discourse. It's Matamoros's voice reading from his own poetry, like a Buddhist mantra: "Defending their right to protest, demanded the right treatment ... didn't get the right coverage ... do it right ... downright simple, either right or wrong ... embrace the right idea... far from right, far right ..." It goes on and on, with voice and roll in perfect unison.
The piece is about the Bill of Rights to the Constitution, with Matamoros's own puns: "Bill" is short for "William." William Tell is also a fourteenth-century Swiss hero standing against power. Whether we refer to the patriot, a verb, Schiller's play, or Rossini's opera, Matamoros gets his point across: Sound can make us think.
At Dorsch Gallery, Rene Barge's "Tinte y Textura" further combines sound and painting. Within a huge room, Barge smartly mixes a merely audible high frequency -- coming out of two speakers -- with a fluorescent bluish light refracting upon a series of minimalist pattern-paintings. Barge's environment is conducive to a kind of serene aesthetic absorption.
Also at Dorsch Franklin Einspruch opened "Presence," a show of big- and small-format paintings. The small paintings are oils, the big ones are acrylics; while the little ones are delicate and realized with deliberate touches of spatula, the big ones are laden with thick impasto, in a kind of frantic execution. In a sense "Presence" is a contradiction in projects. The double duty forces me to think and judge different things, intentions, and outcomes in the same space.
I prefer Einspruch's small works because they alter the conventional -- the female nude, domesticity, and the portrait -- in a personal way. Borderline Expressionistic in the sinuous treatment of form, but also somewhat Impressionistic in the choice of subject matter, Einspruch's apt spatula turns the surface into a busy window of lattices through which to see these subjects' private lives. In the portraits and some interiors, he makes a careful selection of color shades and strokes. They are elegant, simple, and cogent.
The big acrylics lack these essentials. They look like failed augmentations of the small work, demanding a different physical interaction altogether, perhaps using Einspruch's own hands and arms. Without favoring a particular medium -- spatula, hands, or brush -- I don't see a gain in spontaneity or mystery in these huge pieces, even in spite of their obvious thickness.
On the other side of town as part of NoMI Gallery Walk, Tall Rickards unveiled "Helicopter," an energizing show of artists from Miami and Los Angeles, at Leonard Tachmes Gallery. A thematic dealing with film and its reception, the parts contributed to a whole: disparate, cool, and loud.
First the teasing noise of Bob Needle, coming from behind the back wall. Needle is to Miami electronica what Pierre Schaffer was to musique concrete. He plays an uninterrupted range from delicate, filtered stream noise (sounding like a water hose sprayed on a mike) to denser metallic textures with beats in them. Needle's grooves go well with Odalis Valdivieso's Intersection, a black-and-white piece showing a "go" arrow sign next to a furnished interior. As usual Valdivieso's manufacture is clean and sleek, but in a soft, understated manner. See how intersecting lines meet in a curlicue, oval way, as in a child doodling. Her overlapping of silhouettes is definitely eye-catching.
I dug Heather Cantrell's bluish snapshots that communicate a sense of odd detachment. Her eye cracks into Pop derision at the sight of a proper Udo Kier (infamous for gory roles in Paul Morrissey's films) dressed in black with pomaded hair, in the company of a black dog.
Next, think deep ecology. Matthew Pollock's installation contains a photo of a sparse forest covered with snow. Along with it comes a small table traversed by a beam crowned with a deer's skull, which points to the photo on the wall. At the other end of the piece, we see gold-colored shit. How forcefully art can exemplify by proxy.
Tall Rickards continues in an unabashedly male theme. His I Saw Thrones, I Sat Upon Them shows an older Rickards as a 1970s "Don" behind a table dressed in sleek suit, daringly looking at us. Next to his hand, a huge knife and tumbler appear as additional proofs of virility. Check the real trophy -- inside a vitrine over a reddish pillow -- suggesting a dead drug lord's prize.
Nearby Celia Silva and Eugenio Espinoza just opened #831 art, another house turned into alternative art space. They transformed the living room for Suspended Houses, an installation of -- what else? -- little houses hung from the ceiling and walls, by recently transplanted New Yorker David Prusko. He has thematically played with the idea of "home," including floating a model house out in the ocean during Art Basel.
Outside in the back yard, another piece in progress, Tell Me Your Secret, was being created by Prusko: a wall in which each brick contains a secret -- confessed, written, and sealed by members of the audience at the event. Prusko's pieces have this urban flavor, very much in tune with the location of this house. Silva sees the space as creating more of an opening for real alternative expression in Miami, and she cares enough about that mission to turn her own home over to such future projects.
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