Sound Art in Unexpected Places

October 11, 2013

Friday is the fall opening celebration at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Most art stories you hear on the radio, you will be settling for artfully written descriptions of visual pieces, but not this time.

smoca Artist Julianne Swartz (left) and curator Rachael Arauz are interviewed at SMoCA.(Photo by Lesley Oliver-SMoCA)

KJZZ’s Nick Blumberg got a preview of one exhibit opening Friday night.

The very first thing you will hear when you walk into SMoCA is a piece of sound art, but it is not even in the gallery space, it is coming from a room behind the front desk. It is pretty quiet, by design, so listen up.

If you could not tell that’s “How Deep Is Your Love” by the Bee Gees and “Love” by John Lennon, mixed together to create part of the piece “How Deep Is Your” by artist Julianne Swartz.

“I always find some kind of underground or behind-the-scenes space to begin that piece, and I call it the origin room," Swartz said.

From there, the audio is fed into a blue tube that snakes its way along the wall and ceiling of the museum. There are points along the way that Swartz calls “sound leaks.”

“So there’s this hairline break in the tube, and the clear tube indicates where the break is, where you can put your ear up and listen to a little bit of sound," said Swartz.

In all, it is about 400 feet of tubing that ends in a funnel. You can stick your head in and be immersed in the audio. The whole gallery is a noisy place. Sometimes Swartz’s work demands to be heard, even in the middle of a conversation.

“This show does recreate installations that haven’t been recreated elsewhere, so that piece that you’re hearing now is called "Composition for a Thin Membrane,” said Swartz.

Some of the other pieces wait for you. “Open” is a hand-carved box sitting on the floor of the gallery. When you open it.

“I like to bring people back to areas where they’re not supposed to go and to direct their attention to the un-public areas of the museum. Also, you know, that feeling like you’re looking into someplace private, or someplace where you’re not quite supposed to be," Swartz explained.

“Alright, I’ve been told that when I walk into the men’s room, I will trigger the sound, but that it’s my own to discover," I said.
The door opened and the sound started and got louder.

“It’s coming out of one of the sinks where you wash your hands," I said.

“I really, like really, really wanna listen to you. I really want to know what you have to say," said audio from the sink speaker.

“Sometimes the sink says, ‘You have a special sparkle!'" said Rachael Arauz with a laugh.

Arauz is an independent curator who put this show together.

“Four different site-specific installations have been recreated unique for the architecture here at SMoCA, and they’re shown in tandem with the sculptural work, and the photographic work. We have sound, and lenses, and light," Arauz said.

Arauz said the show is a look back at the last 15 years of Swartz’s career.

“You start to see these really wonderful recurring themes of intimacy and universality and love and frailty and longing throughout her work, and you see how well she does it with such a diversity of materials," Arauz said.

But of those materials, Swartz said sound can sometimes provoke the strongest reaction. She first worked with sound as a way to make it more palpable.

“And then I started thinking about what it can carry in terms of emotional resonance and how it’s such a trigger for memory in the same way that smell is. It really accesses your subconscious very directly," Swartz said.

“Julianne Swartz: How Deep Is Your” runs through Jan. 26.

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