Works uploaded by adminIn medieval Persia, Europe, and countries in between, many people used talismans to protect themselves and carry out their wises. Talismans were believed to function by interceding to the stars and constellations that governed earthly matters, drawing down these powers through the stones associated with them. Maḥmūd b. Aḥmad Ṭūsī Salmānī’s design for a talisman here (in ‘Ağayib al-maḫlūqāt, Marvels of Creation, (1388), based on an earlier work by Al-Qazwini) shows a man holding a stick and riding a vulture, to be inscribed on a crystal. I think it was intended to drive away snakes: many talismans of this time picturing raptors served that purpose. Al-Tūsī’s talisman manipulates the connections between the stars and the earth to target an enemy. What interests me in medieval talismans, and the unifying theme of this exhibition, is the idea that a material object can summon and (sometimes) manage hidden connections in the universe. These works by members of the Substantial Motion Research Network all, in different ways, draw together invisible powers and reorganize them into functioning objects.
Ziggy Lever’s (New Zealand) elegant sound installation title (to be specified) (2017) creates a sonic field that intertwines unimaginably distant events with live human actions. Lever collected three years of data from the LIGO and VIRGO observatories, which document the gravitational wave activity of black holes and neutron stars. Lever sonifies this data and modulates the sound with analog synthesizers, filling the gallery a velvety soundscape of peals, bloops, and clicks. Visitors’ movements trigger additional sounds, which may take effect immediately or much later. The effect is of playing sonic dice with the universe.
Waèl El Allouche (Tunisia, Netherlands) and Robbie Schweiger’s (Netherlands) also materialize wavelengths: their project “Ways of Knowing: Materialising the Gaze” (2018-) measures light frequencies at particular locations and moment and converts these first into data and then into physical objects. Inspired by the optical experiments of Ibn Al Haytham (d. 1040) these works behave like human eyes, responding to the light levels and colors in their environment. Unlike our vision, however, they pause to reveal what they have learned, expressing in blocs of color the local actions of invisible light as it traverses the universe.
Jessika Kenney’s (US) sound work Anchor Zero (2015) begins with a score based on extends the first words of Nizami's Layla and Majnun (1188). Kenney draws each consonant in the Persian poem out by adding an alif, the letter A written as a vertical line. Singing the resulting sounds, her voice ascends, climbing the alif. Her beautiful singing grounds these sounds in her body and on the earth, while at the same time directing them heavenward. Installed in a space at the Frye Art Museum, Kenney’s music allows visitors to also experience this grounded ascension. Kenney describes the score as a talisman, I believe because it compresses a course of action to be decompressed at a later point.
Steven Baris’ (US) painting Jump Cut E1 (2018), from his series “Expanded Diagrams,” manifests the internal logic of painting. It is a diagram: in C.S. Peirce’s definition, a sign representing a set of implicit relations that can be perceived. Baris’ painting refers to the relations among its elements, such as right angles, straight lines, breaks, and that wonderful lemon yellow mingling, in time, with black. Once Baris has established the rules, his role is creatively limited to decisions about color, size, and most important, time: how long to allow the diagramming process to take place. Innocently, inexorably, the painting sets its own process in place and allows it to unfold.
The Islamic State appropriated the Black Banner, a flag associated for 1200 years with Sunni Islam, and converted it to an irritatingly basic flag, simply the word Allah in white on black, as though this fundamentalist aesthetics could suck legitimacy away from other Sunni powers. In her series The Black Standard (2016), Navine G. Khan-Dossos (UK, Greece) re-appropriates the ISIS flag, making it the lightly encrypted basis of works that draw on its composition, use of black and white, and historical associations. Wittily, Khan-Dossos redeploys the flag as a calibration target for each painting, reducing the fearsome symbol to a tool for establishing the standard of black and white values.
Azadeh Emadi’s (Iran, New Zealand, Scotland) hypnotic video Moving Lines goes deep into the universe created by ceramic tiles at the Friday Mosque in Yazd, Iran (1119, restored in the fourteenth century). These tiles, proto-pixels, compose the design of the wall, while at the same time each receives and reflects the passing world in their own way. Emadi’s camera draws out the latent movement in the vine-like forms, then she layers them to create a dense microcosm. It is like gazing into a tide pool with lapping water and small plants and creatures.
The noisy and troubling sound and image works of Desire Machine Collective (Sonal Jain and Mriganka Madhukaillya, India) record and respond to the disfiguring effects of capitalism, as these manifest internationally, in their home city of Guwahati, Assam, and in their own bodies. As they write, the DMC “seek to disrupt the neurotic symptoms that arise from constricting capitalist structures with healthier, schizophrenic cultural flows of desire and information.” Noise Life: Scream witnesses a world’s worth of symptoms expressing in a single body: the scream functioning as a breaking point or, perhaps, a reset.
Laura U. Marks