Art

The Abstract Patterns of Sound on Dusty Speaker Covers

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Installation view of Gabriel de la Mora’s ‘Sound Inscriptions on Fabric’ at the Drawing Center (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

There are no drawings on the walls for the Drawing Center’s current exhibition — at least, none you may define in the conventional sense of the medium. On view are speaker cloths, the woven fabric through which sound passes but not dust, which remains trapped in the material, accumulating over time to create faint shapes and abstract compositions. Once fitted over the hardware of discarded radios from Mexico City, these speaker cloths come together now as an unexpected archive, representing a silent but telling record of memories and moments that all revolved around sound.

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From Gabriel de la Mora’s ‘Sound Inscriptions on Fabric’ at the Drawing Center (click to enlarge)

The 110 speaker fabrics in Gabriel de la Mora’s Sound Inscriptions on Fabric are the Mexican artist’s findings over the past three years, taken from old speakers and radios he purchased from flea markets and secondhand stores in his native country. The artist carefully dismantled each device then cut and framed each speaker cloth in the same manner, fitting the material within a white border. These are his sole manipulations; the resulting sections of dusty covers are the original footprints, described by The Drawing Center’s executive director Brett Littman as “readymade drawings” in the exhibition’s accompanying publication.

The show’s setting is what makes these speakers particularly compelling, suggesting that sound, rather than an artist’s hand, may produce drawings. As de la Mora explained in an interview with Hyperallergic’s Devon Van Houten Maldonado, speakers suck and blow air around their apparatus’s innards as they generate sound.

“With the passage of time — 10, 20, 30, 40, or 50 years — the music, commercials, news, static, or silence leaves a mark,” de la Mora said. “A tiny bit at a time, the silhouette of the speaker ends up marked on the fabric.”

There is something poetic about these discarded devices quietly producing patterns on their own through the vibrations they create as they simultaneously blast noise. As de la Mora said, old radios in particular even have valve amplifiers that help burn dust — essentially, technology that alters the outcome of the inscriptions (perhaps their size, shape, or contrast). Beyond preserving physical bits from years ago, the fabrics also allude to various eras of design, showing the multiple shapes, colors, and textures chosen by manufacturers. Some resemble slender wire mesh, glistening with variegated sections; others, the gnarled, knitted surfaces of wall-to-wall carpeting.

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From Gabriel de la Mora’s ‘Sound Inscriptions on Fabric’ at the Drawing Center
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From Gabriel de la Mora’s ‘Sound Inscriptions on Fabric’ at the Drawing Center

Even if the drawings are not his, the presence of de la Mora’s hand in the installation is still evident, with his arrangement of the individual textiles calling attention to speakers’ roles as meaningful cultural objects. He has organized the speaker screens into 55 pairs according to their appearances, placing them on the walls so they mirror each other — like a Rorschach test, the walls reflect almost perfect bilateral symmetry. This larger pattern highlights the commonalities between the dust remnants clinging steadily to the fabrics, despite having arrived from different sources. The dark smut makes visible the unseen waves of years of pop hits, punk songs, news stories, sports commentaries, operas, and more that brought people together — whether in their living rooms, kitchens, or car rides, or across long distances, bound simply by the same radio channel. Like drawings in ink, the dirty fabrics deliver resounding images, with the residue recalling meaningful gatherings once connected by sound, now saluted with silence.

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From Gabriel de la Mora’s ‘Sound Inscriptions on Fabric’ at the Drawing Center
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From Gabriel de la Mora’s ‘Sound Inscriptions on Fabric’ at the Drawing Center
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From Gabriel de la Mora’s ‘Sound Inscriptions on Fabric’ at the Drawing Center
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From Gabriel de la Mora’s ‘Sound Inscriptions on Fabric’ at the Drawing Center
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From Gabriel de la Mora’s ‘Sound Inscriptions on Fabric’ at the Drawing Center
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Installation view of Gabriel de la Mora’s ‘Sound Inscriptions on Fabric’ at the Drawing Center
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Installation view of Gabriel de la Mora’s ‘Sound Inscriptions on Fabric’ at the Drawing Center

Gabriel de la Mora: Sound Inscriptions on Fabric continues at The Drawing Center (35 Wooster St., Tribeca, Manhattanthrough September 2.

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