By Liz Griffin
Julianne Swartz: Seven Sines
Icebox Project Space in partnership with The Clay Studio
Upon entering the chasmal doorway that feeds into Julianne Swartz: Seven Sines, we hear a long, rectangular table at the center of the room emit soft, lyrical groans. As the light from Icebox’s twenty-foot ceilings is diffused over seven ceramic and glass pieces, each one forms its own scattered shadow along the table. We have seen the Icebox transform itself into various layouts to meet the needs of the show at hand. Here, the cavernous space reveals a softer, more tender side, through the simplicity of seven steadfast sculptures resting on a solo grey table.
And the sound: is it music? As I step towards it, I can see copper wires delicately trailing from every piece, leading towards a more complicated cord entanglement beneath the surface. Each work has a hidden speaker embedded into its clay body, which Swartz uses to coax two sine tones at different frequencies out of each vessel. By assessing the air mass inside of the sculptures with a long wand, the final tones Swartz selects are recorded, amplified inside of each piece, and released: one tone diffused through the glass hole, and another through the ceramic hole. By layering all fourteen tones, Swartz has spent hours orchestrating a twenty-five minute long composition that is released into the space and buoyed by the acoustics of Icebox throughout the entirety of the room.
Having witnessed many shows at Icebox (and, with full disclosure, having worked as their intern last summer), it can be difficult for an installation to incorporate elements of sculpture, audio, and space that emphasize and encourage one another. Inside this immense room, where conversations get swallowed by the acoustics, there is no competition between Swartz’s Seven Sines and the Icebox. This is because the acoustics of the space, with assistance only from an amplifier embedded in the clay, catch the emitted tones and carry them, wavelike, throughout the room. Taking inspiration from singing bowls, her sounds become emotive, making me feel at once alone but also unified to my surroundings. Though my feet are firmly on the concrete floor, the rest of my body is breathing in the musical reverberations pushing through the space. In what can only be described as a bodily experience, Swartz’s composition gets enhanced by the swallowing darkness and solitude found inside the space.
Producing the audio for each piece involved a slow and laborious process of encouraging tones from each individual vessel. This engagement, contrasted to more efficient, expedient possibilities, feels like a labor of love. While one approach to audio work is attempting to discern how the tones are created, an accessible and intriguing endeavor, a parallel approach for Seven Sines is appreciating her labor and allowing the results to envelop you. Nobody needs to be reminded of how taxing current existence can be, but for a while I was busy enough following the melody flowing out of seven strange and unusual shapes to completely disengage from reality beyond the doors.
In many ways, it still feels like men are at the helm of Philadelphia’s art community. Watching this male-run venue create space for the radical softness within works such as Julianne’s is encouraging. In a talk she recently gave at the Whitney ISP 50th Anniversary Symposium, Mary Kelly proposed that honest critique of an artist’s intent within their work can only happen through listening. Whether that listening comes from us, the viewer, actively immersing ourselves in what the artist is communicating, or from better recognizing what we need from the work, all are salient during these times. Hosting shows where the artist’s process of collaboration between her sculptures and the acoustics of a new space are clearly and vulnerably on display feels like a move in an exciting direction.
Seven Sines by Julianne Swartz will have a closing performance at 7:00 PM at Icebox Project Space on Friday, November 9th.
Liz Griffin is a painter and senior at Moore College of Art & Design.