In Waves: Arp + RO/LU + Paul Clipson at New York’s Jack Hanley Gallery brings together an East Coast artist, Arp; a Midwestern artist, RO/LU; and a West Coast artist, Paul Clipson. All are interested in repetition and the associations, both intentional and random, that can happen in an evolving installation. At Jack Hanley, the three have combined moveable sculptures, droning music, and an ethereal water film projected on the wall, transforming the exhibition space into an interactive, Fluxus-inspired playground for adults. At first glance, the artists riff on generic, even lowbrow, elements: stock footage, furniture, and background music. But these components transform into something at once pleasing and dissonant through interaction with each other and the viewer.
Visitors to the gallery are encouraged to take ownership of the exhbition’s layout by moving, separating, and stacking RO/LU’s sculptural pieces, collectively called “Everything Is Always Changing All Of The Time (In Waves)” (2014). (Full disclosure: I worked with Walker Art Center’s Open Field during RO/LU’s residency there.) These raw radiata pine sculptures, whose light color contrasts with the dark hardwood flooring of the gallery, range in form from thin, almost flattened triangles and empty squares to hefty blocks and thick, smooth curving forms that interlock. The works read as quick marks of a kind — hinges, frames, zigzags. Some visitors will surely be reminded of towering building blocks and the childhood urge to create something fresh and imaginary from simple existing elements.
Alexis Georgopoulos, a creator of intellectual ambient electronica — music equally suited to the Philip Johnson Glass House and to pop albums — scored the installation’s soundtrack as Arp, with musicians Nicky Mao and Al Carlson, in the key of C minor. The key was chosen partly for “its root in cultures from ancient Greece to India, and its link to visions of futurism.” Without that knowledge, the musical piece, called “Inversions” (2014), might fail to readily spark listener’s associations. Yet it recalls the idea of “furniture music,” coined by Erik Satie to describe background music at an art opening that paradoxically engaged visitors despite being conceived, like Arp’s, as “barely perceptible.” The analogue synthesizer, violin, and piano subtly and meditatively anchor the space.
Paul Clipson, whose day job is projectionist at SFMOMA, is responsible for the film component. A 16mm projector dramatically beams from the center of the white cube, creating a horizontal spotlight as it reveals Clipson’s “Water Fictions” (2014) on the far wall. This film, a 10-minute loop, is meant to be “sculptural.” The glistening water is striking; however, it’s unclear what the water is meant to signify beyond referring to the exhibition’s title. The rippling water is quick to fade into the background, much in the same way that Arp’s soundtrack sparkles and then fades into monotony.
While the music drones and the exhibition is cloaked in semi-darkness (so that the projector can effectively play the film), the viewer must prioritize her senses, or attempt to engage them all at once. The show’s press release poses the question: “When does a work begin and when does it end?” One might additionally ask: When does work begin and when does it end? Despite the open invitation to play with the sculptures, work is involved to connect the three mediums and their corresponding senses: sight, touch, and hearing. Work is also involved to transform the background music and generic rippling water into something noticeable, something other than background.
Taken at face value, In Waves is engaging and pleasing. Arranging the objects is an entertaining almost taboo within the white cube, and the show redirects the viewer’s attention from its usual focus, the gallery walls, to the gallery floor. But the real challenge is allowing the “furniture music” and sculptural video to inform and fuel this shifting, creative experience. Each element is playful on the surface, but the viewers must do the work of deciding how these elements truly interact.
In Waves: Arp + RO/LU + Paul Clipson continues at Jack Hanley Gallery (327 Broome Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through October 5.