Civilization seems in general to estrange men from materials, from materials in their original form. The process of shaping these is so divided into separate steps that one person is rarely involved in the whole course of manufacture, often knowing only the finished product. But if we want to get from materials the sense of directness, the adventure of being close to the stuff the world is made of, we have to go back to the material itself, to its original state, and from there on partake in its stages of change. – Anni Albers (Black Mountain College Bulletin. Series 1, No. 5. Anni Albers, Work With Material, November 1938)
Emerging in the aftermath of WWI and revolting against the consumerism of the Industrial Revolution, the Bauhaus was based upon the philosophy that good design, intentional design, the melding of function and art, can change the world. The quote above, from Anni Albers’ essay “Work With Material,” showcases how materials play a role in this philosophy – which traveled with the Alberses to BMC. A new, modern approach offered the promise of reconnecting with not only the things we use and surround ourselves with but with our own humanity.
Our Summer 2019 exhibitions Materials, Sounds + Black Mountain College and BAUHAUS 100 came together to tell the story of how modern approaches to design, art and craft reconnected us with the materials our world is made of. This philosophy has inspired artists and craftspeople to continue investigating the potential of these materials. In this blog post, we’re looking back on the international and local artists who contributed to Materials, Sounds + Black Mountain College and how their installations showed the lasting impact of the weavers, composers and potters of Black Mountain College.
About the Artists
Curated by New Zealand born and Australia based curator and academic Caleb Kelly and originally exhibited at MAMA Albury (Australia), Materials, Sounds + Black Mountain College brought together contemporary artists who each create an experience that is focused on the making of sound through materials.
The artists in this exhibition challenge the stability of materials in their practice. Handmade instruments and electronics, recycled electronic components, outmoded technologies, fake technologies, imagined sounds and silences will form a series of dynamic installations that challenge the way we think about materiality in a cumulative sound experience.
The work by the Australian artists has a lineage in the experimental practices developed by artists and students at Black Mountain College. Newly commissioned works will be exhibited alongside archival ephemera and works from the BMCM+AC permanent collection that demonstrate experimental and materials-based processes. Originally exhibited at MAMA Albury (Australia), Materials, Sounds, and Black Mountain College demonstrates the international influence of the College and draw out connections with contemporary experimental and process-based arts practices.
Pia Van Gelder is a Sydney-based electronic artist and researcher. Her work involves designing and building electronic instruments that are presented in performance and interactive installation contexts. Her works investigate our relationships with technology and energy. Pia’s soft synth installation draws from Anni Alber’s experimentation in material. The first to develop sound and light-absorbing fabrics, Albers was not only a pioneer in the reappropriation of textiles into the world of fine art, but she was also constantly exploring the technology of her materials. van Gelder furthers this investigation as she marries a woven wall hanging with hand fabricated synthesizers, inviting the audience to play the work, completing the circuit with their own bodies and creating new avenues of interacting with sound and fiber.
“I always imagine myself as being the person who sets up the opportunity for the machine to be listened to. I think they’re the doers and I’m the facilitator. But if this facilitating is the only thing that the audience notices, they are responding through a preconceived hierarchy. The performances are never meant to be solos because I am trying to reveal a collaboration between machines and me.” – Pia van Gelder, interviewed by Ella Barclay for Runway
Vicky Browne is a New Zealand artist based in the Blue Mountains of Australia whose work engages in sound as a core theme. Browne works in a speculative manner, building her own record players, iPods, and radios out of found materials, and it is this handmade quality that reveals a close connection to materials. For Materials, Sounds + Black Mountain College, Browne used robot vacuum cleaners to play with indeterminacy, a la John Cage. As the robots scoured a confined space, trying to mop the floor and map out their path, they sounded chimes that hung from the ceiling, made using clay, brass and wire.
Peter Blamey is a Sydney-based artist, working across performance, video, recording, and installation. His work explores the interconnected themes of energies and residues—often through reimagining and recasting our everyday encounters with technologies and the physical world—and also our experiences of energy generation, use, and wastage. His installations played with our perceptions of solar energy, using lightbulbs powered by the general electric grid (aka powered by coal) to give energy to solar panels. This energy was processed through transistor radios and speakers, drawing connections between light and sound.
Nathan Thompson is a New Zealand artist based in Wollongong Australia who works across sound, sculpture and drawing. He creates music and audio installations that use audio feedback to make analogous connections to the self-organising properties of environmental systems. His cybernetic sculpture “Cities of Salt” gathered sound from the gallery to feed a controlled loop, utilizing the vibrations of the soundwaves to power a kinetic mechanism.
Jenn Grossman is an experimental musician/sound installation/experiential media artist living and working in NYC. Lingering somewhere between philosophical, psychological, and artistic approaches to exploring sound and light, she is interested in ways that they heighten emotional, social, and sensory awareness, cause materials to transcend themselves and engage us in active modes of perception from the art gallery to the street. Grossman collaborated with two local artists to draw connections between contemporary sound art and the evolving tradition of craft in Western North Carolina.
Cade Hollomon-Cook is the Director of the Design Studio at East Fork, an Asheville-based manufacturer of ceramic dinnerware. A former apprentice of East Fork’s Alex Matisse and John Vigeland, Hollomon-Cook draws from a lineage of potters that can be traced back to Bernard Leach (BMC ceramics instructor, 1952.) Through a collaborative installation in this exhibition, Hollomon-Cook + East Fork brought local traditions and the Black Mountain College legacy into conversation with contemporary sound artist Jenn Grossman. Their collaboration activated ram press casings from East Fork’s factory, an often invisible mechanism of the ceramics industry, with the sounds of production.
Josh Copus is a community-centric potter based in Marshall, NC. Through countless hours of working with potters in the Asheville area and throughout the nation, Copus has developed a personally significant approach to making pottery that values the importance of local materials. Josh’s work references historical forms and processes while remaining relevant to the contemporary art world. Jenn Grossman and Josh Copus further expanded the possibilities of clay as a material and practice in their installation “Audible Shapes.” Josh’s forms were sounded by recordings from his rural, Marshall studio, connecting them back to the place of their creation.