Installation art is arguably the most confusing avenue for the general public to follow and yet it’s one of the most exciting mediums in the world — there’s no denying its immersive qualities. Kurt Schwitters’ famous Merzbau was a major development where the viewer could finally walk into and be surrounded by the artwork. From the New York City subway grid installation in the late 1960s by pioneer Max Henry Neuhaus to Camille Norment, whose work is time-themed, sound also has eked its way into the field of installation art.
Matthew Gallagher, along with collaborators Jeff Host and Jacob Koestler, is bringing his latest project to H-Space. An artist and a musician, Gallagher is pulling together a rather daring piece. It bears noting that a musician works with sound, but isn’t necessarily a sound artist. We were already familiar with Gallagher’s sound wave paintings and his sculptural work with magnets and pigment; our intrigue was running way deep.
“I’m excited to realize this really ambitious project,” says Eli Gfell, curator of H-Space. “I think the scope and the scale of it suits the space really well and in terms of programming and exhibitions, I’m always looking for new way to activate it and new ways to push the height and the volume of the space."
Against the wall are four video monitors; the first was being edited by Koestler at the time of our visit. The following monitors revealed a burning stick, a blue flame and smoke. Gallagher, who has always upheld transparency with his work, explains, “In this first one, there’s a photographer’s butterfly clip. We (Koestler and Gallagher) wanted to use the clip because of the smoke here in the last video screen, which is carbon dioxide, but there’s no point of reference for it. We realized that it’s helpful to have solid objects on either side.” The burning stick is actually Palo Santo, which Gallagher will light during the happening. “I was reading and it actually ionizes air, like it actually purifies it.
It’s not just incense.”
Turning back to the video, he continues, “This is a visual control all of these rigid things and the smoke is vibrating with the pressure. You can see it a bit more and the visual effects are more dramatic and the one over there is just smoke; it’s a beautiful video, but you don’t get the more scientific part of it.”
We are guided to a plexi-glass box, which hearkens back to the aforementioned magnet/pigment sculptures. Gallagher educates us on the construction. “This is an electromagnet,” he says pointing to the structural base, “and inside the box there’s a little neodymium permanent magnet. The permanent magnets poles are always fixed at north and south, they never change, and the electromagnet has switching poles, so it switches with the alternating current back and forth and it switches the poles in the magnet and that goes at a rate of 60 times per second, which is audio rate, so when I flip this switch here…”
The neodymium permanent magnet goes wild and creates a crazy clacking sound as it bounces like an angry bee caught in a jar. We were electrified. The artist will be rigging the pedestal so the viewer can flip the switch themselves, thus creating an even more interactive artwork.
Looming large in the middle of the room sits “Standing Wave,” two speakers on top of cinderblock, lit from underneath with some blue light. Red cords reach up like nerves outstretched into space. We ask if it’s dangerous to stand in between the speakers and were assured that it was safe, we admit that we’re anxious to experience what’s ahead.
WARNING: If you have any photosensitivity or tinnitus, you should be aware that the installation is quite loud and employs arena strobe lights in a small space.
Collaborator Jeff Host arrives to hook up his part of the collaboration; the soundboard looks like a dish of electric spaghetti. The moment of truth has arrived, the flip is switched and, we are immersed. The subterranean sound moves the red cord in waves and the entire room comes alive. In a sense we felt like we were in a discotheque taken over by Dr. Frankenstein and Stephen Hawking with a touch of Jacque Cousteau. The recordings, we later found out, were taken at the NASA Reverberant Acoustic Test Facility in Sandusky, Ohio.
Also in the exhibition are several of Gallagher’s sonic paintings. These works were created with an elastic band that had been stretched to near breaking point and released, creating an almost gunshot loud sound; tying the artists process using extreme environments. Concludes the artist, “What turns people off sometimes to the magic of science is that empirical study so clinical and while that’s really important and essential, I’m just trying to offer something different, multiple perspectives on that. There’s a goldmine of accessibility in art and in science, which is super relevant now. It’s a huge stratum that needs to be compressed unified.”
Seeing Sound is a one-day exhibition. The installation will run every 25 minutes in 6 to 7 minute intervals this Saturday, October 5, 2019, from 7 P.M. to 10 P.M. H-Space is located at 10237 Berea Rd., Cleveland, OH 44102.
Sign up for Scene's weekly newsletters to get the latest on Cleveland news, things to do and places to eat delivered right to your inbox.