Volume: Hear Here

January 17 – March 10, 2013
Justina M. Barnicke Gallery

“Volume: Hear Here” is an exhibition of installations by various artists exploring the relationship between presence and absence and the way the objectification of sound and sound itself depicts what is here and what is not. Co-presented by two University of Toronto galleries (Justina M. Barnicke and Blackwood), the exhibition is physically split between the two places. Christof Migone, the director-curator of Blackwood Gallery says of the exhibition, “Each work in Volume functions as a stage, in some cases literally, in others metaphorically or conceptually.”

The poster of the show. University of Toronto Art Galleries, 2013

In Justina M. Barnicke Gallery the stages overlap and interact in both physical and aural space and the resulting conceptual interaction between the different projects enhances the complexity of the overall experience. Unintentional, subtle ties exist between the projects, creating a coherent whole that is pleasing to explore and experience of a physical space created from silence and sounds.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s installation Last Breath is the largest piece in the East Gallery. It combines the sound of breathing and the sound of a brown paper bag inflating and deflating endlessly by circulating the breath of a human being. The set-up is loose, and almost casual. Yet the sound of the breathing is anything but reticent. The familiar sound, increased in magnitude, becomes alien and strange, and almost oppressive. When is it the last breath? One never knows.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Last Breath, 2012

Mitchell Akiyama’s installation Ur-sound consists of written words, a photograph of a skull, and a monotonous yet haunting soundtrack: a gramophone needle running through the coronal suture of the human skull trying to reconstruct the first “original” sound on Earth. Installed across the room from Last Breath, the turning of the record and the sound of the inhaling and exhaling, accompanied by the crunching of the paper bag, sounds really strange like strong wind trapped in a human skull.

Mitchell Akiyama, Ur-sound, or, the noise no one writing can store, 2012

Sylvia Matas is an interdisciplinary artist known for her minimalist works. In Every Direction, the title is both literal and conceptual, the pages spread out not following any particular order. Most of them covered entirely by arrows, pointing in every direction. Some of their comments are on environmental issues, others describe sounds. There is a “list” of the sounds of wood, both in their living tree forms and anthropogenic crafted wooden format, as well as a chart of the calls of various species of owls. The atmosphere of the piece is quiet, filled with tiny movements, leading to contemplation.

Sylvia Matas, In Every Direction, 2011

The London-based Neil Klassen exhibits the only piece that associated with sound – the trumpet in Requiem and Ruin #1. The tar-engulfed trumpet sits trapped in shiny black, permanently silenced. Directly above it is the print Requiem and Ruin #2, a brick wall in the middle of nowhere, a visual manifestation of  the blockage of sound.

Neil Klassen, Requiem and Ruin #1, 2011

David Merritt in his two delicate, hand-drawn pieces (Untitled, Here and Untitled, There, 2007) invites the viewers to get up close, and perhaps bring a magnifying glass. Lines crawl across the two large composition like delicate stitches of thread, mapping out song-titles emphasized by the absence of sounds as the faint, on-again off-again lines echo this playful game of hide-and-seek.

John Wynne is a multimedia artist who often emphasizes the aural as part of his installations. Cold Atlantic, a very personal piece, was inspired by his father. Wayne creates a powerful piece by combining the old man’s left-behind hearing aids and a projection of the Atlantic landscape. The simple set-up somehow moves the viewer even before the description for the artwork has been read, radiating a nostalgic feeling, emphazized by deep blue light.

John Wynne, Cold Atlantic, 2007

In Sweeper, a 17 minutes video, crys cole is focusing on another mundane sound – the sound of sweeping, of a broom scraping across the floor. It is distilled and amplified, much like the sound of breathing in Last Breath. The highly detailed sound of the sweeping is contrasted against the low image quality of the video and the distance of the sweeper in the footage. The juxtaposition startles and asks the viewer to stand back and re-analyze the “normality” of everyday life – a presence that is so pervasive and still so easily becomes absent.

crys cole, Sweeper, 2009

In Marla Hlady’s interactive installation, Basement Bass, the viewer is asked to stand atop a circular stage to feel the vibrations produced by the apparatus set up in Hart House’s basement, underneath the gallery. The shaking of the floor from bass notes are usually found in noisy, crowded parties in clubs. Yet here, there is only a partial darkness and the sound of sweeping from a nearby installation. The bass cannot be heard, yet it is undeniably present.

Text and photo by Leanne Wang

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