Jung Hee Choi: Ahata Anahata, Manifest Unmanifest XI at the MELA Foundation’s Dream House envelops me, untethers my ego and anxiety from whatever other ballast is in me to keep me afloat. What makes this happen is really very quotidian: I arrive at the Dream House, speak to the front door attendant, negotiate the donation amount, take off my shoes, and push through the door. Once inside I feel the music already landing on me in percussive waves, as if in respiration. When I turn left and walk a few feet through the hallway to the large, carpeted, main room there are scattered bodies already there, mostly on the periphery. I am tugged by the sound and the glowing lights and lie down in the room’s center on two of the pillows that are littered throughout. The music is loud, almost overwhelming; the light patterns look like a god’s dream. To lie here is to dwell in the business happening inside my skull, to be sequestered in an enclosure of light and sound where my self rises to meet the challenge of being swamped by the pulsating music and the morphing light pattern in front of me. I feel I might end up in a white van filled with other catatonic people, driving to some remote location, before the day is done.
I move my head. Doing so makes me realize there is an architecture to the soundscape. Something guttural appears when I turn right; something more lyrical in the middle, and then a droning, like a garden full of chanting monks, when I turn left. I try to comprehend the pattern in front of me. It seems like a series of lights emitted through a cut-out shape—neon pink and a center of crepuscular darkness inside which black and green combine in an organic melange that might suggest the eyes of a hawk gazing at you over two elephants meeting their trunks in the middle. Choi uses black wrap aluminum foil which she’s pierced with a needle to create intricate, amorphous patterns that might be ancient narratives, might be my fears reflected back to me. If it’s a Rorschach test, it’s demanding nothing of me but my presence. Moving my head from side to side, I realize there is a pair of glowing, spinning orbs on the right wall, purple and pulsing like another visual puzzle in which I could get lost (“RICE” (1999 – 2009)). This is most certainly not dreaming; it is traversing layers of sound and light like a climber in a cave.
There are many overlapping layers that form this cavernous experience. First, there’s the foundation formed in 1985 which, according to New Music USA, is designed to encourage creative work in the fields of music, the visual arts, and other media; to explore the applications of advanced technologies to artistic expression; and to present major contemporary works and extended duration art installations that eliminate the boundaries between artistic disciplines. The MELA organization may take its name from the acronym for Music Eternal Light Art. (It’s still not clear to me who named it so.) It created what the New Music organization describes as the “Dream House continuous sound and light environment” in 1993 and since then has hosted many performances and exhibitions, among them the Just Alap Raga Ensemble, which Choi formed with the artists under who she had studied the Kirana vocal tradition: La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela.
Second there is the complexity of the Hindustani classical music, Raga, which is the basis of Choi’s sound (and light) installation. It derives from the Sanskrit word for “colour,” or “passion,” and is reportedly “the world’s most complex melodic system.” It involves a combination of scales and rules governing how to use pitches within the scale, plus prescribed home notes, dominant, subdominant, dissonant notes, landing/resting notes, and means of progression through the scales.
Third, there is the existence of a habitation specifically set aside for dreaming — imaginative excursions into the self where intuition is the more convincing wisdom. I am grateful for this space designed to compel that inward motion. This city takes so much out of me, and then there is a moment of recalibration, where I realize what I’ve lost.
Jung Hee Choi: Ahata Anahata, Manifest Unmanifest XI continues at the MELA Foundation’s Dream House (275 Church Street, Tribeca, Manhattan) through October 14, with several performances by the Sundara All-Star Band.
They Managed to Mess Up an Art Heist Movie
There must be a lesson in Vasilis Katsoupis’s film Inside about the vacuousness of the art market or the claustrophobia of exhibition spaces — I just don’t care.
Ten Painful Stories of the Dutch Colonial Slave Trade
The Rijksmuseum’s traveling show strives to remind us that we are all, in some way, a part of this chapter of human history, whose legacy continues today.
The Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation Presents The Feminine in Abstract Painting
Curated by Jennifer Samet and Andrea Belag, this group exhibition in NYC explores the feminine through aesthetics, as opposed to identity or gender.
Textured Histories at Shiprock Santa Fe
The Santa Fe gallery features Indigenous textiles and jewelry from the early 19th century to today.
Renaissance Portrait of “Ugly Duchess” Likely Depicts a Man
A curator at London’s National Gallery believes the subject of painter Quinten Massys’s painting “is most likely a he.”
NYU Steinhardt Opens 2023 MFA Thesis Exhibitions
Taking place at 80WSE Gallery in New York’s Greenwich Village, Part I is on view from late March through April while Part II opens in May.
Hokusai’s “Great Wave” Makes a Splash at Auction
An edition of the iconic woodblock print broke records when it sold for $2.8M this week.
MTV’s The Exhibit Is Back With an Inflatable Dolphin
Episode four, in which artists tackled themes of justice and injustice, was the most lifeless of the reality TV show so far.
Miniature Worlds: Joseph Cornell, Ray Johnson, Yayoi Kusama
Through small-scale works, this exhibition at the Katonah Museum of Art in New York examines Cornell’s prominent role in the lives and careers of Johnson and Kusama.
Florida Principal Ousted Over “Pornographic” Michelangelo Sculpture
Parents complained that the famous sculpture was shown to their sixth graders.
Tickets to Sold-Out Vermeer Show Are Going for Hundreds
The online resale market for the Rijksmuseum’s smash exhibition is booming, with tickets selling on eBay for over $2K.
The Wider World and Scrimshaw
On March 28, join the New Bedford Whaling Museum online and in-person for a symposium on global carving traditions from across the Pacific Rim.
Three Looted Antiquities at the Met Repatriated to Turkey
Nine other repatriated works were seized from Met Trustee Shelby White, whose collection was subject to a criminal investigation.
This week, the world’s lightest paint, Pakistan’s feminist movement, World Puppy Day, and were some of Vermeer’s paintings created by his daughter?