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February 16 - April 13, 2002 at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, Hollywood

by Suvan Geer

Michael Brewster,"allAROUNDyou", acoustic sculpture, at the Orange County Museum of Art, July-December, 1999.
The blue one (above) is while "sounding."

Michael Brewster,"allAROUNDyou", acoustic sculpture, at the Orange County Museum of Art, July-December, 1999.
The above is while "waiting" for the button
to be pressed, turning on the sound.

Michael Brewster, “Falls from the
Sky”, acoustic sculpture, 1994.

Walking through one of Michael Brewster’s sound sculptures is a little like swimming underwater through an artesian spring of rippling, audible tones. Movement in any direction causes subtle changes to the sound that surrounds you. Ducking up and down creates musical rhythms only you can hear. Walking and stopping make melodic passages that seem to divide then pour back around you. Your body makes its own music from its swim through an auditorially enriched, acoustically alive space.

For his newest project, SEE, HEAR, NOW- a sonic drawing and five acoustic sculptures, Brewster builds an echoic sound studio inside the back gallery. It’s large, high, dark and very empty except for a big lighted button on the wall enticing the viewer to “press here,” an action that changes the light and brings on the flood of sound. From the zip and dip thrill of Slider to the dense vibrating hum of synthesized voices in Turkish, Brewster’s sound sculptures stimulate a sensual experience of engorged listening. A quirky hybrid of modalities, the work flavors the tongue while it seems to thicken space into nearly visual shapes.

The access into his acoustic studio is through a preliminary sound-animated empty space that is dotted with utilitarian looking mechanical sounders that emit random whistles or clicks to the touch. Traversing that space is like spending time in a room with tiny air leaks hidden at the corners or between the walls. Friendly but insistent, they snatch at the ear then return to hiding, drawing your eyes and the ears all over the space in search, and constructing a peek-a-boo game of patterned sound and silence.

Brewster’s sculptures make the physics of rolling sound waves into a bodily experience, while in the front gallery Sarah Seager’s installation disembodies the phenomenon of gravity into a psychological rather than physical experience. Like the title, 188 loose elements things like pure sound associations improvisational jazz free form where in principal everything is equal the id and the superego supersystems, Seager’s space spreads out its ideas loosely in a tantalizing, fragile structure.

Taunting us with a textual dialogue sandblasted into large panes of glass that lean precariously on the walls and floor, she begins a conversation between two invisible people about blindness and a desire for sight. On the floor are large sheets of blank white paper, some delicately folded, curling or rolled, here and there dotted with stray bits of colored paper or odd items from past art pieces, all arranged to suggest a tenuous system of order.

Because the sheets are not glued or tacked in place, any movement threatens to dislodge and reconfigure them. The effect is both alluring and discomforting, and somehow suggests viewing as an act of will that can, during periods of dangerous inattention go “blind.”

By using the floor for her field of vision Seager forces us to literally watch where we are going. In this very fragile arena, aware watching then leads to a visual search for meaning cued by the litter and blankness so delicately parceled at our feet. Fundamental to our search is the determined impermanence of the things and relationships we view, abetted by her bountiful use of whiteness. It’s an interesting blanching of the image that makes use of white’s intrinsic vacancy, its capacity to at once suggest open potential and completely satisfied fullness

Though they rely on two different senses both Brewster and Seager use the gallery as a touchstone for consciousness. Brewster turns it into a pool of ambient tones that make listening an active act. Seager debunks the gallery’s conventional static seeing by making our passage a metaphor for self-aware sight. For both artists direct experience is meaningful as content and process. It’s a shift of emphasis from the art object as the focal point of contemplation to the viewer being actively engaged. This shift has special resonance in addressing a culture of benumbed consumerism, frivolous beauty, and virtual realities.

Sarah Seager, work in progress
in the artist’s studio, 2001.

Sarah Seager, work in progress
in the artist’s studio, 2001