Making Art For Space

An intimate space with a few unexpected corners for its size, it’s appropriate that space itself seems to be a regular focus for 109 Gallery’s shows. This new art spot in Williamsburg, which celebrated its inaugural show in fall 2012, frequently features live performance alongside static art—one more way of activating space. Next up for 109 is “The Surrogate Space,” a two-person show from Jerry Blackman and Scott Goodman opening on April 25th, 2013.

“The show is a collection of new sculptures and paintings created specifically for the space and for this pairing,” says owner Ryan Krause. Blackman’s work includes “ceramic still lifes of small objects (pocket watch, scissors) that beckon to be taken in one’s hands, and larger wall pieces, whose baffling constructions reorient the viewer and set the space slightly akimbo.” Goodman’s pieces are a similar invitation to engage, “flat and vividly-colored renderings of such objects as doors, windows, 2×4’s, and kitchen cabinets—objects [begging] to be entered, opened or otherwise employed.”

Jerry Blackman's work at 109 Gallery. Photo: Steph Ziemann

109 Gallery’s most recent show, “I am sitting in a room…”, featured a string of live performances complementing the work of the five artists featured in the show. After catching the closing reception of “I am sitting in a room…”, I’m looking forward to seeing 109 continue to build on its engagement with space.

For the closing event, Krause and Alec Hall performed sound artist and composer Alvin Lucier’s I Am Sitting in a Room (1969), the show’s namesake. Consisting of a recording played back and re-recorded over and over in a room until the room’s resonant frequencies take over and render the speech first dronelike, then unrecognizable, the piece unites a number of principles of minimal music to map a space’s less-than-visible properties.

The pieces brought together by curator Marysia Gacek for “I am sitting in a room…” also explore the distortion of the familiar, from the same-but-different subjects of Maria Toumazou’s photographs and the grotesque outlines of Dmitri Hertz’s lead-encased “drinks” frozen in time just after a spill, to Federico Del Vecchio’s images of manmade structures affected by fire, flood, storm. This twisting of the known into unknown stands in relation to time as well as space: moments attach like barnacles, the barnacles multiply, and eventually that’s the surface we see.

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

Where in Lucier’s version, I Am Sitting in a Room explores the imprint a particular space makes in sound, the piece as performed by Krause and Hall is not just about the architecture of the room. For one thing, it’s not a single pre-recorded text; it unfolds live. You watch one performer speak into a microphone. You hear that speech repeated back into the room, re-recorded as you listen; then, it’s repeated (and re-re-recorded), and repeated—and ambient sound is recorded along with each repetition. As the gallery fills with, empties of, re-fills with visitors, their voices, breathing, sneezes, the clinking of their bottles of beer, the creak of 109’s glass door letting them in and out will layer over each iteration. It’s not only space distorting the sound. It’s the architecture of time as well.

This will happen naturally, but I’m early, and the gallery is quiet, nearly empty. A dozen iterations into the first cycle they tell me I can talk into the mic if I want. “Hello,” I say, tentative, staying small. I hear nothing repeated and, afraid I was too quiet, I keep going. “I will now be a part of this loop.”

I should have realized it would take time for my contribution to play back. Twenty seconds later there’s my recorded voice, and hearing it is as awful as that always is. The gallery’s too small to mask my cringe. But in the next iteration, something has changed: my voice sounds muffled, underwater, or as if I’m hearing someone speaking in another room, through a wall. Removed, I can listen without embarrassment. Repetition after repetition, my voice stretches out, grows into something my brain is tempted to parse as robotic but is really just no longer recognizable as human.

  • 109 Gallery – Jerry Blackman and Scott Goodman “The Surrogate Space” April 25th – May 24th, 2013 Thurs–Sun 12pm–7pm Mon 7pm–10pm or by appointment [Price range of works: $1,400-8,000]

Article by Cory Tamler