Disquiet intrigues & excites

White Noise by Dave Dyment on display at Modern Fuel.
White Noise by Dave Dyment on display at Modern Fuel.
Blank_Verse, a work by art collective USSA.
Blank_Verse, a work by art collective USSA.

Fine Art Review: Disquiet @ The Modern Fuel Gallery

Before a visitor even gets a chance to see any of the works featured at Modern Fuel Gallery’s Disquiet exhibit, his or her ears are assaulted with the harsh screeches and haunting vocals of the Japanese or Russian national anthems. For anglophone ears, the effect is cold and unsettling, but it impacts the way visitors look at the images that preface the exhibit’s video installations.

Modern Fuel Gallery never ceases to surprise and delight me with their programming, and the current exhibition Disquiet is no exception. This year all of the gallery’s programming is focused on the overarching theme of silence, and Disquiet is the examination of silence as something that is charged, active and forceful rather than neutral, as it is often perceived. Disquiet is a group exhibition curated by artist/writer Christof Migone, a PhD candidate at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.

The main exhibition space of this small gallery holds seven of the eight works that make up this exhibition. The eighth work—a CD by Robert Bean—is a recording of the hushed sounds in the Sistine Chapel where guests are asked to speak only in the faintest of whispers and is aptly titled Silenzio.

The three works by Dave Dyment shown in Disquiet are each simple, yet profoundly complex in their examination of various forms of communication from print to audio to tactile. White Noise, the first work as they walk through the exhibition, is a silkscreen of a page from a book with a black background and white lettering. The twist is that only bits of the text are legible because the majority of the “page” is covered up with a white smear.

The image speaks volumes to the idea of books being censored, perhaps because it delves into the idea that details about the publisher and the copyright are just a bunch of white noise compared to the literature books contain, since it is just the copyright information that is visible.

Silent Evolution, also by Dyment, is a mute video recording of a Beatles record being played. At first it seems boring, but the thing about contemporary art is that the ideas these works generate are as important as the visual aspects of the pieces.

While the gallery-goer can’t hear anything besides the low hum of the T.V.’s internal workings, the person (presumably the artist) who plays the record and is responsible for the recording can hear what’s being played. So it’s possible that they have the volume on the record player muted, but if they don’t, then all of a sudden they’re privy to some knowledge or some sound that is silenced for the viewer.

The third image by Dyment is Untitled (Help), and is nothing more than a framed page of braille. Interestingly enough, the braille is under glass and as such can’t actually be read. This simple concept of using braille makes one think about the barriers to communication. Silence can come in many forms, not just the actual absence of sound.

At the other end of the gallery, mounted on the wall, is a small flat-screen T.V. showing Afshin Matlabi’s works Japan’s National Anthem (2002) and Russian National Anthem (2005). The video depicts people who have no understanding of Japanese or Russian singing the national anthems. The frames in the video are slowed and edited so that the viewer gets a sense of the singer going through the motions of learning how to create sounds without any understanding of the meaning. Like any other work in the gallery, it is a work that makes the viewer think about the relationship between sound and meaning.

Matt Rogalsky’s Ellipsis focuses on the sound of silence by visually and audibly documenting the silences in a live radio feed. The static and the clicks made by the human voice at the end of sentences are amplified in the gallery space as a running tally of the number of silences is projected on the wall. While the work was completed in 2001, the feed that is currently being processed began on Aug. 25, and has continued uninterrupted.

Sharing this section of the gallery is Diane Morin’s Effondrements, a video that shows objects imploding. The video is filmed in darkness so that a fuse, when lit, becomes the light source for the objects. The fuse always leads into an object, at which point it will implode, but not before many of these objects are illuminated from within. Loud screeches are heard as the fuse burns and the objects implode, heightening the tension. The point is elusive, but not unrecognizable: the objects are at once being illuminated and destroyed. They are given expression and then it’s gone and can never return.

The wonderful thing about Modern Fuel Gallery is that it is very much a space where the viewer can interact with the works, where he or she can talk to the directors—and often the artists—to learn about the meanings of the works, but viewers still ascribe their own meanings to them.

One of the works in this exhibition includes a machine that was used in language labs in the ’60s. Initially intended as a teaching aid, the machine uses cards with magnetic strips to record and play back questions and answers of both student and teacher. Fast forward to 2005 when USSA—an artist duo of Jake Moore and Steve Bates—create an installation using the machine to record messages on the cards that they then hang on the wall in the gallery space. The viewer is encouraged to take the cards down and listen to the message (or the lack of message) and then record their own message. There is also a stack of blank cards beside the machine for people to record on if they feel hesitant about plucking the cards off the wall.

I myself made an attempt to record a message, but being the technology spaz that I am, the machine would not pick up my voice, despite several attempts. Although I was assured it was a temporary glitch, the lack of sound was eerily appropriate for the exhibit.

The works are intriguing and exciting, but again, only a hint of this is possible through explanation. If you get a chance, be sure to check out this exhibition because there’s no describing the mood and the tension that is rife in the air of the gallery.

You just have to see and hear—or not hear—for yourself.

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