Ethan Rose's Entwined at PDX Contemporary (all exhibition photos Jeff Jahn)
A couple of weeks ago THE great structural philosopher of sound Ornette Coleman died... his sometimes impenetrable writings and music, which were based on something he called "Harmolodics." Harmolodics willfully removed distinctions of harmony and melody, allowing musicians to support each other without obvious structural roles
. He called this "Removing the caste system from sound." It was the basis of atonal free jazz and interestingly enough, Harmolodics used a lot of visual vocabulary. Coleman even included Jackson Pollock's White Light painting with its all over composition as part of the cover art of his seminal album Free Jazz in 1954.
Ornette Coleman 1954
Today, in many ways that caste system is the hardest thing formally for contemporary artists who exhibit sound art to deal with. Is form subordinate/dominant or emulsified within a piece that makes sound crucial to the work? In other words, how to incorporate the elements used to support one another effectively without prioritization? That prioritization of formal elements is what makes some new media work that is sound intensive seem gimmicky because the delivery mechanisms (speakers, instruments, etc.) are so visually assertive yet often generic.
To that end it seems if like Ethan Rose's latest, Entwined, at PDX Contemporary
is on the right path because all elements; sound, strings, speakers and works on paper created utilizing those elements present a truly democratic experiential cacophony in black and white. Here a visitor can isolate an element, like the sound or a string but due to a lack of distracting detail the viewer quickly moves onto another element (an aesthetic strategy Donald Judd borrowed from atonal music as well). In Entwined, a sound emanating from a speaker causes an attached string to vibrate, just like a bow pulled across a violin string or a mallet on a cymbal activates the instrument. But instead of contact it is sound waves which activates the visual vibration. What's more, the crossed strings amplitude influence one another, especially those which touch. It is a subtle interplay and the gallery lights splay subtle shadows on the wall, further activating the spatial ballet on view. There could be more of it.
For the works on paper ink replaces light, sound and space. The ink allows the vibrating strings to literally draw sound on paper. It is less dynamic than the installation work but the Rorschach-like forms remind me that light itself is a wave, recalling how art like energy itself is most interesting as a game of translation. The effect visually recalls Barnett Newman's Zip paintings (especially the Stations of the Cross series).
Entwined (on paper detail)
That subtle translation makes Entwined one of the most spatially refined of Rose's shows in recent memory, though the 2008 TBA festival exhibition Movements with its entropic music boxes is my all time favorite of his. While Entwined might not be as fully formed it points to a new level of integration that isn't as reliant on visual/performative shtick, in other words it is less reliant on props.
In the past Rose's work has prioritized or at least emphasized the performative element making them feel more gimmicky. Literally titled Entwined... this show feels like a more integrated effort, which in the long run is more mature than some of his earlier collaborative projects, which felt forced.
Overall, it is still a rarity to see installation or new media art of any kind in a major Portland gallery, that's despite the fact that most of the Portland art scene's strongest artists work in new media. Thus, Ethan Rose's Entwined is immediately a welcome addition, but what's better is the way his work is beginning to gel in a way that unifies media and effect. Entwined might not be the most immersive visually or sonically (usually pleasant emo approved introspective tones) but the biggest trick in sound and kinetic art is how to make it more than just a Rube-Goldberg style chain of causality or the "performance" itself more than just a demonstrative novelty.
In the past under appreciated but important artists like Pol Bury and Gunther Uecker seamlessly integrated sound and kinetic formal elements and later John Cage seemed to make his kinetics like cracked ice melting seem besides the point, downplaying the performance while heightening an existential vacuum. Ethan Rose is moving towards that kind of maturity and it is exciting.
Somehow, Entwined feels like an unfinished experiment, but compellingly so. The installation itself is small, relegated to one wall and the tones emanating from it have less personality than a High School HVAC system starting up (not a bad thing) and the works on paper are as polite as parents at a middle school choir concert. Somehow a more extensive and immersive installation with work on paper that fit the scale of the ideas (I'm thinking Yves Klein's performative/visual works) could be the turning point in Rose's exhibition work, from generally good to something much more profound.
Through June 27, 2015 at PDX Contemporary