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Art & Art History

Echo Local

Tuesday, November 09, 2004–Saturday, November 27, 2004

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Artists: Paul Lloyd Sargent, Graeme Miller and John Smith, Bill Talsma, Michelle Teran, and Deborah Stratman

Organized by Paul Lloyd Sargent, Echo Local is a group exhibition of sound-based works by six artists, including Graeme Miller, John Smith, Paul Lloyd Sargent, and Bill Talsma, who used unique methods of documenting and mapping geographical space. Works in the exhibition include hundreds of samples of found audiocassette tapes, individually bagged, labeled, and pinned to the gallery wall; an auditory catalogue of responses to a phone solicitation; and a radio broadcast of discarded audio.

Echo Local was commissioned as one of the projects in the 2004 At the Edge: Innovative Art in Chicago
series.

Echo Local is presented concurrently with Mix Tape.

Related:

EXHIBITION CHECKLIST

Graeme Miller and John Smith

Lost Sound, 2001
Video, 28:00 min.

Trevor Paglen

Covert Recording Device (Disabled), 2003
Altered cell phone and microphones

SHU Recordings, 2000
Audio loop, 4:50 min.

Untitled (Pelican Bay), 2004
Stills from performance

Paul Lloyd Sargent

Representative Sample, 1999-04
Installation with found audiocassette tape, satellite photo, and sample database

Deborah Stratman

FEAR, 2004
Audio installation and solicitation
(Listening station constructed with Pete Wenger)

Bill Talsma

Detritus: Radio Regurgitation, 1999–2000
Audio collage for broadcast, 30:00 min.

Michelle Teran

Life: A User ’s Manual, 2004
Performance documentation

ARTIST BIOGRAPHY

Paul Lloyd Sargent Head ShotPaul Lloyd Sargent is a multidisciplinary artist, writer, and video editor living between Brooklyn, Syracuse, and Wellesley Island, New York. His research-based art practice focuses primarily on the supply and disposal chain through new media art, radical cartography, grass roots activism, and sustainable culture as art practice. In particular, his recent work examines the impact of the international shipping industry on the ecologies, economies, and communities along the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.

His work has been presented internationally at such venues as Exit Art, Conflux, Smack Mellon, Proteus Gowanus, and Devotion Gallery in New York; Para/Site Art Space and the Microwave Media Festival in Hong Kong; Gallery M in Berlin; BaseKamp in Philadelphia; Big Orbit and University of Buffalo Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY; Impakt Festival in Utrecht, the Netherlands; Invideo Festival in Milan, Italy; OneTakeFilmFestival in Zagreb, Croatia; FLEXFest in Gainsville, FL; and Mess Hall, 7/3 Split, Dogmatic, Video Mundi, Onion City, CUFF, and Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago. Sargent received a BA from Hamilton College and an MFA from School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Exhibition Checklist (expanded)

Graeme Miller and John Smith

Lost Sound, 2001
Video installation, 30:00 min. loop

Presented for this show as a video installation, this project documents the collection of fragments of discarded audiotape found by the artists in an East London neighborhood. Combining the sound retrieved from each piece of tape with images and field recordings of the place where it was discovered, the work explores the potential of chance, while creating portraits of particular places by building formal, narrative, and musical connections between images and sounds, linked by the random discoveries of the tape samples.

Trevor Paglen
Covert Recording Device (Disabled), 2003
Altered cell phone and microphones

SHU Recordings, 2000
Audio, 4:50 min. loop

The recordings on this CD were made in and around the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison, the nation’s premiere “supermax” prison in northern California. Built in 1989 at a cost of $277.5 million, Pelican Bay represents the architectural apex of contemporary incarceration. The SHU units at Pelican Bay are designed for maximum isolation: prisoners are kept in small cells 23 hours a day and automated doors ensure an absolute minimum of interaction with other human beings.

Untitled (Pelican Bay), 2004
Stills from performance

Paul Lloyd Sargent

Representative Sample, 1999–04
Audio installation

A collection of audiocassette tapes, gathered in Chicago ’s Humboldt Park over a five-year period, is presented in this experiential audio project. Bundles of tape are affixed to the wall and cross-indexed, by number and date of discovery, to a corresponding satellite map of the park and a database of five-second samples, transmitted for the viewer from a laptop hard drive. Set to loop continuously through the playlist, the resulting audio map depicts, in discarded representative samples, this swiftly changing neighborhood.

Deborah Stratman

FEAR, 2004
Audio installation (listening station constructed with Pete Wenger)

In fall of 2003, business cards were freely dispensed at 30 pay phone booths around the city of Chicago. The cards invited participants to dial a toll-free number and describe what they were most afraid of. The toll-free number was operational for two months and resulted in over 200 responses, which were then compiled onto an audio CD and broadcast on WLUW (88.7 FM).

The audio emitting from the podium documents those responses.

The toll-free FEAR number has been reinstated for this show. Solicitation cards are available at the gallery site and are being redistributed (thanks to group of itinerant volunteers) at bus stations, train stations, diners and pay phones nationwide.

The relationship between safety and fear is a cyclical one. Desire for safety leads us to build gated communities, post surveillance cameras and enlist security patrols to protect ourselves from breach by an unknown. In the process, we sever ourselves from the unexpected, from the accidental, from others not like us. The less we encounter them, the less we know and understand them. The less we know and understand them, the more we fear them. The more we fear them, the more we fortify ourselves. It is a fundamentally unhealthy relationship, as our fears so often animate our decisions.

As our administration employs increasingly reactionary policies, where a fearful, suggestible citizenry is desirable, it becomes more important to question what that fear is.

Tell me what you are most afraid of.

Bill Talsma

Detritus: Radio Regurgitation, 1999–2000
Audio collage for broadcast, 30:00 min.

Detritus: Radio Regurgitation is a performance art/music/audio art piece for radio created from discarded cassette tape collected over a three-year period from the streets of Chicago. The piece is a musical interpretation of the wide variety of sound and music consumed and disgorged by the community. These “sound ribbons” were salvaged on Talsma ’s day-to-day travels—untangled from bushes, trees, and street signs, or picked out of gutters and off the pavement. The focus of this piece is sonic regurgitation.

Originally designed for radio broadcast during a residency at Experimental Sound Studio in Chicago, it is presented here for the streets and sidewalks in front of the gallery via speakers mounted above the building entrance. As the piece is broadcast, it reintroduces the reinterpreted musical material back into the Chicago neighborhoods in which it was found. The first “radio regurgitation” took place in the spring of 2000 and subsequent transmissions continue to this day.

As well as being a piece for radio broadcast, Detritus: Radio Regurgitation was also released on cassette, available from the artist.

Michelle Teran

Life: A User ’s Manual, 2004

Performance documentation

Life: A User’s Manual, as presented in this exhibition, is an interactive installation documenting a recent project by Michelle Teran. By navigating the gallery with mobile video receiver kits, the viewer engages in a journey analogous to the walking tours Teran leads through urban spaces via an invisible network of wireless security camera signals. The active participation of the viewer in this piece will reveal footage gathered during a series of these walks performed in Chicago in the spring of 2004. Looped and transmitted from two wireless, remote DVD players, the signals of each video cross and overlap to mimic an experience similar to one of Teran ’s walks.

EXHIBITION SUPPORT

Echo Local is supported by the College of Architecture and the Arts of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Special thanks to the jury that selected the 2004 At The Edge
projects: Marc Fischer (Chicago artist and previous At the Edge participant), Barbara Wiesen (Director, Gahlberg Gallery, College of DuPage), Tricia Van Eck (Curatorial Assistant, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago), Julia Fish (UIC faculty member), and Lorelei Stewart (Director, Gallery 400).

EXHIBITION ESSAY

The Slur of the Local

Nato Thompson

What if you dialed into MapQuest and instead of the standard utilitarian map, your speakers erupted in an auditory cartography replete with Peter Gabriel, bird chirps, samba, evangelists and static? What if you were a 21st century pioneer whose frontier consisted of wireless surveillance camera images? What if you closed your eyes along Halsted Street and decided after listening for a good thirty minutes that site-specific art was impossible, because as far as your ears could tell, there was nothing specific about site at all? This town sounds just like Houston, New York City, Sao Paolo, or Tokyo. What if you could develop a Geiger counter for fear and mapped the city accordingly? What if cartography actually helped you understand the world more? Echo Local, an exhibition organized by Paul Lloyd Sargent, uses a random sampling of visual and auditory materials culled from particularly unconventional geographies in order to re-orient us to the potentially disorienting spatialization of urbanity.

In all probability, Sargent selected this topic because he has been collecting audio cassettes throughout Humboldt Park for the last five years. Located on the western edge of gentrification, Humboldt Park may be one of Chicago ’s current hottest spots for contested public space. As the city grows, who gets to move in and who gets to move out, what folks are attracted by the low rents, who wants to live in this predominately Hispanic neighborhood? While we may believe we have answers to these questions, it might be best to test our assumptions against a device far more random: found audio tapes.

Sargent has collected over 547 of these cassette tape bundles and mapped them for viewers to appreciate. The barrage of sound is available on a computer where the participant is encouraged to take on the anthropologist ’s hat by cross-indexing and listening. Mexican brass bands, slow jams, Tupac, Paul Simon, and a strange array of deep house spread out like a landscape. Which one do you think the kid bobbing his head up and down with his Walkman is listening to? While the cornucopia of music and impassioned speech fills your ears, one can ’t help but wonder if, culturally, the sampling of Humboldt Park is united through cheese. Even if hints of a cultural melting pot are evident, what does a populace gain from this corny soundtrack? What do these audio tapes tell us about the auditory delights of Humboldt Park ’s inhabitants and visitors? If we know that a tape playing Simon and Garfunkel was located by the base of a tree, so what?

Perhaps getting to know auditory cartography is a bit like dumpster diving. The pieces are moldy. The rhymes are stale. The sermons turn to compost. The forensics of sonic decay attract the attention of two additional artists: the video Lost Sound by John Smith and Graeme Miller and the Bill Talsma ’s broadcast, Detritus: Radio Regurgitation. In both cases, the audio cassette is used both as source material and provides ambience for contemporary urbanism.

In Lost Sound, Smith and Miller document the interstitial spaces where the cassettes are located. In this case, culture literally envelops the landscape as the video shows wind-blown brown tape squished under car tires, wrapped around satellite dishes, cinched into tree bark, and floating atop a puddle. Culture is literally piling up and possibly burying us. The information age takes material form. In Detritus: Radio Regurgitation, Talsma takes the auditory trash-heap to another level by remixing it and vomiting it (in a droning, hypnotic remixed form) into the ears of Chicago via broadcast.

If audio is a culturally-charged dung heap, then maybe the surveillance camera can become a reverse-engineered peep show? Like a peeping Tom who eagerly waits with his telescope at this window so he can “map” the bedrooms of Chicago, Michelle Teran flips the switch by liberating the surveilled private-sphere into a public display of banal voyeurism. By using a 2.4 GHz receiver/handheld video monitor, Teran can scan for wireless surveillance camera feeds. The privately surveilled world can become the source of a walking tour where a pile of newspapers, a sleeping child, a remote parking area or an unoccupied bed (let your imagination wander) become your voyeuristic topography. What lifts these territories out of the trash bin of the mundane is that as boring as these sites are (and sure, let’s call a sleeping child boring), they are excitingly controlled. The opening up of a private, controlled sphere almost feels fetishistic and voyeuristically liberating.

The same can be said of Trevor Paglen ’s Listening to Pelican Bay, where mapping takes on the task of charting the unmappable, or, in Paglen ’s case, listening to the un-listenable. While Teran opens up the home as the space of biopower and self-surveillance, Paglen auditorially maps institutionally controlled spaces: in this case, Pelican Bay Maximum Security Prison. The prison is designed as much to keep people out as in and Paglen ’s score takes on the overtly political if not outright dangerous role. Listening to the jangling of keys and the almost cliché sound of large doors opening and closing, we become aware of the infiltration and control over the auditory landscape. If a prisoner screams and no one is around to hear him, did he scream at all?

This chilling turn of events finds a form of public outcry in the work of Deborah Stratman ’s fittingly titled project FEAR. Equipped with magnet cards to attach to phone booths and a toll free number, Stratman conducted a non-scientific cartography of fear. The cards ask people to call and leave a message about what makes them afraid. What makes you afraid?

Maybe an atlas of fear is a useful place to end. Why not indulge the gothic when it comes to urban cartography? If these unusual methods (from surveillance tours to discarded audio cassettes) provide any sense of navigation, they reveal that particular freeways and infrastructures are being made outside site and sound. Whether this new urbanism is developed through sonic refuse, cultural vomit or scopic control, it is useful to track them outside the typical AAA road guide. Off the radar, new vectors of power play on us and these perverted geographers may show us where to locate them.

****

Nato Thompson, The Slur of the Local, November, 2004.

This essay was distributed in the gallery during the run of the exhibition.

Print Collateral

Poster: Echo Local