What are vibes, anyway? The term “vibrations” appears as early as the 19th century as a reference to a feeling — an affinity for some connection to the unseen but intuited realm of otherworldly sensation. By the early 20th century, spiritualist philosophies like Theosophy espoused a connection with this other, deeper world or dimension. Vibrations, energy, and aura were all words used in spiritualist circles to signal a connection with a veiled structure uniting people and objects with their environment.
Many artists believed in an alternate dimension comprising this unseen realm. We live with the vestiges of these ideas today, even if some of us believe less in a fourth dimension and more in, say, the universe as an organizing principle for these spiritual vibrations.
The term “vibes” may have entered common parlance following the release of The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” in 1966. Vibes, now, is such a casually employed term that it exists separately from its spiritualist origins — or do we simply exist with more openness toward such energies, so much so that we take them for granted?
In Vibrant Pool, the inaugural exhibition at Currents 826, a gallery space run by Currents New Media in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the concept of vibrations unites the work of the show’s three artists. Kirsten Angerbauer, Emily Margarit Mason, and Zuyva Sevilla engage, sometimes obliquely, the concept of vibrations on a double register: vibration as physical sensation and vibration as affective signal or experience.
The former manifests itself most clearly in Angerbauer’s work, which utilizes sine wave generators. Set to specific frequencies, Angerbauer creates vibrational patterns using common materials such as glitter, plastic beads, water, or even pasta. Such items, set atop or near speakers connected to sine wave generators on a tabletop that emulate the artist’s worktable in their studio, shake and move in ways that to Angerbauer invokes specific moods or feelings. What these moods or feelings are, specifically, is still a work in progress — the pseudo-scientific methodology the artist is working toward is humorous and has a mad-scientist feel that nods toward early spiritualist practices, and their videos that close in on the vibration of certain materials has a hypnotic, feverish quality that recalls early abstract cinema, which also purported to invoke spiritual feelings in the viewer.
In their artist statement, Angerbauer notes that they are interested how the omnipresent background hum of large- and small-scale electronic devices can affect our own sense of well-being. It would be interesting for Angerbauer to push this idea further — to see sine waves applied to materials that have some sort of personal or cultural significance. This would also, in turn, add a layer of meaning to the works that would carry them beyond the literal.
Mason’s composite photographs contain fragmented images of flowers, water, glass, sand, the sun, among other subjects from nature. After photographing landscapes and objects found outdoors, a long, meditative process ensues, during which she arranges cut-up portions of her photos to create semi-abstract compositions. Mason then photographs the collage to create a smooth and seamless image. The physicality of the process remains, but the final photos have been printed on satin and mounted a few inches from the wall, which allows for their lightness.
One day during a visit to the gallery, the doors were open and Mason’s photos all gently floated in the breeze. No specific landscape or place remains recognizable in Mason’s images, although generalized locations such as beach or desert guide the viewer. Mason is interested in how we remember a specific place after our experience of it is past, and her complicated, layered images reward sustained looking. The finished works unfold temporally, and their inclusion in an exhibition containing video and time-based media encourages such engagement.
Sevilla’s work in lens-based media and digital imagery reflect the artist’s fascination with light particles. Using Blender software, Sevilla combines multiple images of projected light to create patterns that he then applies to transparent panels. The multicolored images in his Hyperlux series evoke nebulae or galaxies, or in one case, a map of the interior of the eye itself, which is appropriate since the moiré effect produced by the images tricks the eye and creates an illusion of movement. Standing about 18 inches from the surface of a panel, the image begins to pulse and heave as if breathing.
In a recent artist talk at Currents 826, Sevilla emphasized his interest in light as an active force rather than as a static substance. Light, he explained, is continually moving, its photons constantly bouncing off surfaces and being absorbed by our eyes. This energy echoes throughout his Hyperlux works.
Notably, all three artists in Vibrant Pool live and work in New Mexico, a state with a thriving and often culturally appropriative pop-culture market for energetic healing and alternative spiritualities. By engaging with scientific methods and rigorous visual strategies, Angerbauer, Mason, and Sevilla make a case that rings truer and deeper than vibes as a casual catchphrase, and avoid the pitfalls of the “woo” aesthetic so prevalent in Santa Fe.
Vibrant Pool continues at Currents 826 (826 Canyon Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico) through May 1, 2022. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.