Soundtracks at SFMOMA

Greetings, and happy third night of Hannukah! Today we look at the Soundtracks exhibition currently on display at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) through the end of the year. It is also the subject of our most recent CatSynth TV episode.

The exhibition explores the intersection of sound, visualization, and space, and features over 20 artists. There are a variety of interpretations and methods of making sound, from acoustic to mechanical to electronic. None of the sound installations are overpowering, but many do arrest ones attention. Upon arriving at the 7th floor for the exhibition, one is created by Anri Sala’s Moth in B-Flat, which features a mechanically triggered snare drum hanging inverted from the ceiling.

Anri Sala - Moth in B-Flat, 2015
[Anri Sala. Moth in B-Flat (2015_]

The electro-mechanical theme continues with O Grivo’s Cantilena, which includes several motorized sound-making sculptures primary made of wood.

O Grivo - Cantilena, 2017
[O Grivo. Cantilena (2017)]

These were fun to watch, and I found myself wanting to make one myself (we shall see if that actually occurs).

Simplicity reigned in Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s clinamen v.3. A large shallow pool of water contained floating ceramic bowls. The frequent collisions of the bowls created a music that was very captivating.

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot - clinamen v.3, 2012–ongoing
[Céleste Boursier-Mougenot. clinamen v.3 (2012–ongoing)]

This piece was deeply calming, and I found myself zeroing in on groups of bowls as they collided and separated to form rhythms and harmonies.

Ambient soundscapes were also the heart of an installation by Brian Eno, New Urban Spaces Series #4: “Compact Forest Proposal,”, with a darker tone and more complex technology.

Brian Eno - New Urban Spaces Series #4: “Compact Forest Proposal,” 2001
[Brian Eno.New Urban Spaces Series #4: “Compact Forest Proposal” (2001)]

One is free to wander the darkened space amidst the moving columns of LED lights. Every once in a while, the light increases and one gets glimpses of shadowy figures on the wall. The sounds ranged from small percussive synth hits to trumpets to electronic noise.

Electronic noise was also at the heart of Christina Kubisch’s installation Cloud. Kubish’s work explores sonification of data and electricity. The mass of red electrical wires emits electromagnetic radiation, which was interpreted as sound using customized headphone devices.


[Christina Kubisch. Cloud (2011/2017)]

Of all the installations, this was the among the most challenging to take in sensually or to document. I love the concept, and I think it really needs an extended period of time alone to experience fully.

From the large to the small. We had fun with Sphere Packing by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, which featured several spherical speaker arrays made from those ubiquitous white Apple earbuds.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer - Sphere Packing, 2013 and 2014
[Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. Sphere Packing (2013 and 2014)]

Each was playing a different selection of classical music from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, rearranged and diffused asynchronously through the speakers. Lozano-Hemmer also had an installation Last Breath that included a recording of breathing by the late Pauline Oliveros.

We conclude with another project visualized as a sphere. Lyota Yagi’s Sound sphere featured a sphere wrapped in cassette tape that freely rotated and revolved. Customized pickups rendered the sound from the tape, which is chopped, looped and distorted based on the chaotic motion of the sphere.

Lyota Yagi - Sound Sphere, 2011
[Lyota Yagi. Sound Sphere (2011)]

All of these pieces were inspiring for my own work, as I want to do more sound installation in the coming year. There were more in the main the exhibit and spread around the museum, but beyond what I can cover in this article. We do encourage you to check out our video to hear how some of these pieces sound. And if you are in the Bay Area, we strongly recommend checking the exhibition out before it closes on January 1, 2018.

MoMA Part 2: Stephen Shore, Thinking Machines, Max Ernst, Is Fashion Modern

Our initial report from MoMA focused on the current exhibition of print and 2D works by Louise Bourgeois. But in November, the entire museum was a trove of intriguing exhibitions – even with the current construction – and today we look at four more of them.

We begin with Max Ernst: Beyond Painting, a survey exhibition built around the celebrated Dada and Surrealist artist’s frequent description of his own practice as “beyond painting.” It does actually include paintings, but also is many early drawings and works on paper as well as his sculptures and early conceptual work.

Ernst first came to prominence as the founder of the Cologne branch of Dada after World War I (in which he served in the German army). Like other in the Dada movement, much of his work was deliberately provocative and low-fi and went outside of traditional artistic practice. One of the seminal works from this early period was the portfolio Let There Be Fashion, Down with Art, which mixes technological drawings, equations and other elements in absurd and non-sensical ways. Despite the tone and organizing concept, some of the individual illustrations are quite beautiful.

In the above page, we see a feminine figure juxtaposed with geometric and architectural elements. It could have easily been one of Louise Bourgeois’ drawings from three decades later! It also reminded me of the composition in some of my photography.

“Beyond Painting” did include paintings, particularly from Ernst’s surrealist period after relocating from Cologne to Paris.


[Max Ernst. The Nymph Echo (La Nymph Écho). 1936. Oil on canvas.]

The hard-edged lines have given way to the dreamy organic shapes frequently employed in surrealism. But Ernst’s renderings have more of a biological feel – there is abundant vegetation, and some elements appear as microscopic life forms but on a human scale.

Despite his reputation as a provocateur within the often dark worlds of Dada and surrealism, Ernst’s work often has a very playful quality, even endearing at times. That comes out most in his sculptures, some of which can even be described as “adorable”

Max Ernst Sculpture
[Max Ernst. An Anxious Friend (Un ami empressé). 1944 (cast 1973)]

This one, in particular, is worth walking around, as there is another figure on the back side.

The exhibition culminates with 65 Maximiliana, an illustrated book co-created with book-designer Iliazd.
[Max Ernst. Folio 10 from 65 Maximiliana or the Illegal Exercise of Astronomy (65 Maximiliana ou l’exercice illégal de l’astronomie). 1964. Illustrated book with twenty‑eight etchings (nine with aquatint) and six aquatints by Ernst and letterpress typographic designs by Ilia Zdanevich (Iliazd). Page: 16 1/16 × 12 1/16″ (40.8 × 30.7 cm). Publisher: Le Degré 41 (Iliazd), Paris. Printer: Georges Visat. Edition: 65. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of David S. Orentreich, MD, 2015. Photo: Peter Butler. © 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.]

In addition to Ernst’s aquatint illustrations and Iliazd’s fanciful typography, the book also features a completely invented hieroglyphic script by Ernst. It brings his career full circle to those early Dada books from Cologne.


As described above, beauty and artistic interest often originate outside traditional artistic practices. The exhibition Thinking Machines explores the artistic ideas that emerged alongside early computer technologies as well as the beauty of the devices themselves.

It is easy in the age of ubiquitous, distributed, and often invisible computing that the most powerful computers were singular and central elements of many workplaces and institutions. The Thinking Machines CM-2, made in 1987, both fits in the emerging dystopian future imaged in the era but also collapses complexity to beautiful patterns in the red LEDs against the black cubic casing. Apple has always been known for their design, and some of their early offerings were featured, including the Macintosh XL (successor to the infamous Lisa).

While the machines themselves were works of art, artists immediately saw their potential for exploring new ways of creating – we can only imagine what Max Ernst might have done with these technologies! But we don’t have to imagine with others, such as John Cage. Here we see both the score and record for HPSCHD, his collaboration with Lejaren Hiller that featured computed chance elements and computer-generated sounds on tape alongside live harpsichords.

The intersection of music and technology is at the core of what we do at CatSynth, but we have also long been interested in technology in other arts. The exhibition included samples of sonakinatography, a system of notation for motion and sound developed by Channa Horwitz.

Chana Horwitz

The notation system uses numbers and colors arranged in eight-by-eight squares and can be used to represent music, dance, lighting, or other interpretations of motion over time. The notation and a proposed work were submitted by Horwitz for 1971 Art and Technology exhibit at LACMA – although the proposal for the piece with eight beams of light was included in the catalog, it was never fabricated. Horwitz work was buried beneath the work of male artists and she was not invited to speak or meet with industry representatives collaborating on the exhibition. This led to an outcry about the exhibition’s lack of women, a problem that echoes to this day in the world of art and technology. Fortunately, women were recognized in this MoMA exhibition of early technology in art. In addition to Horwitz, we saw work by Vera Molnár, a pioneer of computer art. In the print below, she digitally riffs on a drawing by Paul Klee.


Surprisingly, MoMA has rarely delved deeply into fashion in its exhibitions. For a long time, the biggest major exhibition the museum held for this medium was Bernard Rudofsky’s 1944 exhibition Are Clothes Modern?. But the museum is revisiting the topic in a major way with the current Items: Is Fashion Modern? a deliberate play on Rudofsky’s original title. The exhibition includes 111 garments and accessories and places them in both conceptual and chronological organizations. There are of course mainstays of fashion such as the “little black dress.”

It is hard to look at a fashion exhibition without thinking “Would I or would I not wear this?” In the above example, the dress on the left is something I would wear, while the one on the right is something I would not (except perhaps as a costume for a film, etc.). But side by side they show a range of tastes and styles and how they shape and reflect our images of our own bodies. The most intriguing design in the “I would wear this” category was this dress from Pierre Cardin’s “Cosmos Collection”. Even if this was intended to represent “the future”, I could see it easily working in the present, whether the present is 1967 or 2017.

Cardin Cosmos
[Cardin. COSMOS]

The exhibition did also touch on new technologies and innovations, such as with this dress that uses 3D printing technology.


[Jessica Rosenkrantz and Jesse Louise-Rosenberg. Kinematics Dress. 2013. Laser-sintered nylon.]

Of course, not all fashion is “high fashion”, and the exhibit deliberately covered both. There were the ionic baseball caps of the New York Yankees and their evolution over the years (someone had to design each one of them). And even a display of Jewish kippas, ranging from the simple to the whimsical.

Kippas

I was particularly amused to see the Yankees-themed kippa. It was two “religions” colliding.


Our final exhibition is the MoMA’s large and comprehensive retrospective of works by photographer Stephen Shore. I have to admit, I was not particularly acquainted with Shore’s work, and after touring the exhibition I realize I should have been. In many ways, Shore’s work is photography writ small, often employing simple camera technologies, including a novelty Disney toy camera from the 1970s and Instagram on an iPhone in his current work. And his subjects range from the foment of 1960s New York and Andy Warhol’s Factory to stark rural landscapes.


[Stephen Shore. New York, New York. 1964. Gelatin silver print, 9 1/8 × 13 1/2″ (23.2 × 34.3 cm). © 2017 Stephen Shore, courtesy 303 Gallery]

Steph Shore
[Stephen Shore. U.S. 93, Wikieup, Arizona, December 14, 1976. 1976. Chromogenic color print, printed 2013, 17 × 21 3/4″ (43.2 × 55.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the generosity of Thomas and Susan Dunn. © 2017 Stephen Shore]

I particularly like the “ordinary” nature of some of the settings, main streets, highways, abandoned booths. The juxtaposition of New York against the small town and rural landscapes feels quintessentially American. Shore was also known for working in color, especially after leaving New York – this was something that wasn’t done so much in the world of art photography at the time. He also deliberately subverted the idea of art photography at times, including in his 1971 exhibition All the Meat You Can Eat, which was composed mostly of found imagery (commercials, postcards, snapshots) in dissonant arrangements that were more theatrical than anthropological.

Shore also did commission work. A few of these took him abroad, including to Israel, where he combined his interests in photography and archaeology. His most recent work fully embraces the modern technology of Instagram sharing – you can follow Shore’s Instagram account – and on-demand printing. The subject matter is varied, often focusing on small-scale or interesting framing of everyday items, but there are also occasional snaps that wouldn’t appear out of place on a tasteful personal account.

It’s not uncommon for me to be inspired to pursue my own work after an exhibition. This was certainly an example, as Shore’s photography mirrors many of own work in the medium, particularly focusing on place and texture, as well as traveling the country to pursue one’s art. Indeed, the inspiration was a bit more poignant because wondering the images I felt that this was exactly what I should be doing. It perhaps that realization that led me to tear up a bit as I left.

Outsound & VAMP Present A Holiday Pop-Up Benefit Show

Recently, John Lee, the creator of bayimproviser.com donated a portion of his extensive record collection to Outsound. And our friends at VAMP are helping us sell them to fund our continuing mission of promoting new music in the Bay Area and beyond. To launch this effort, Outsound held a benefit concert at VAMP on December 1.

I performed a solo set with my trusty Nord Stage EX, modular synth, and Casio SK-1.

Amanda Chaudhary setup for show with Nord and modular

As with most of my current solo performances, I try to combine both idiomatic jazz and funk elements with more experimental electronics. I opened with White Wine (instrumental) with the extended solo section morphing into a more free-form electro-acoustic improvisation that also included the garrahand drum. It moved from sections of disco and bossa nova rhythms to noise to complex harmonies from the drum and Make Noise Echopon module. It was a fun set with an appreciative audience of both attendees and record-store patrons.

Amanda Chaudhary

After my set, Tri-Cornered Tent Show took stage. Anchored by bandleader Philip Everett on clarinet and electronics and Ray Schaeffer on bass, the band explored a variety of sounds and styles from noisy electronics and percussion to R&B grooves to psychedelic serenades featuring Valentina O on vocals. Anthony Flores rounded out the band on drums.

Tri-Cornered Tent Show

It was interesting to see how both sets explored the intersection of avant-garde electronic and acoustic sounds with more familiar idioms. Soul, funk, and R&B were present in both sets, but then we each veered off in different directions. Between us, we might have covered many of the genres in VAMP’s record bins!

It was a fine night of music and fellowship, and it’s great to see an independent (and idiosyncratic) store like VAMP flourishing in downtown Oakland. You can find out more about them here. And please visit Outsound’s website to find out about upcoming programs and how you can help support our work bring new music to our community.

Ai Weiwei: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors, New York

This fall and winter in New York featured an ambitious citywide art project by Ai Weiwei called Good Fences Make Good Neighbors. Through fences, cages, netting and other forms of “barrier”, Ai Weiwei well-known landmarks as well as quintessentially “New York” locations into expressions of global migration – a complex phenomenon that includes refugee crises around the world as well as the fights for and against immigration in our own country. While the large installations at Washington Square and Central Park perhaps get the most attention, they are also scattered in smaller locations that are part of daily life in the city. We at CatSynth attempted to track down all the major installations and compiled our experiences into this video.

The large sculptural pieces in Washington Square Park and Grand Army Plaza at the corner of Central Park were the most impressive as iconic.


[Grand Army Plaza / Central Park]

The cage at Grand Army Plaza is quite literal, an easily identified barrier between those in the cage and the rest of the city going about its business outside. Of course, one can freely enter and exit this cage at will. The mirrored piece that fills the Washington Square Arch is more abstract, with the silhouettes of human figures forming a welcoming portal in the midst of an imposing fence. This one was the most aesthetically beautiful for me, with its play on reflections and light from the surrounding city.


[Washington Square Arch]

Many smaller installations were scattered around the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a neighborhood long associated with immigration and new arrivals to the United States. Indeed, the European Jewish side of my family settled in this neighborhood in the early 20th century, so it holds particular significance.


[Chrystie Street]

Ai Weiwei. #goodfencesmakegoodneighbors #NYC Essex Street Market

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One could be forgiven for overlooking some of these (though the Essex Street Market installation is quite large). In fact, one at East 7th Street was just a narrow fence in the space between two apartment buildings. It took me a couple of minutes to locate it. And business at the boutiques and cafes at ground level went ahead seemingly oblivious.

We also made it to some of the installations in other boroughs, including the one surrounding the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens.


[Unisphere – Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens]

The Unisphere is one of the remaining ruins from the 1968 Worlds Fair and with its positive (albeit cynical) message of global and international solidarity, its an apt setting for reflecting on the current migration crises and increasing nationalism worldwide. The borough of Queens has also involved since 1968 to become one of the most diverse places in the world.

And no artistic journey through the would be complete without Brooklyn. Fulton Mall – a section of Fulton Street closed to form a pedestrian mall and bus corridor – was the site of a series of installations adding fencing to some of the bus stops.


[Fulton Mall, Brooklyn]

One more Fulton Street Mall. Ai Weiwei #goodfencesmakegoodneighbors #brooklyn #NYC

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Downtown Brooklyn has become an important part of my own experience of New York in the past decade, and it seems fitting to end here, where older discount stores and new high-rise condo buildings collide. We will have to see how this ultimately plays out…

We end in the Bronx, where this billboard on the Deegan Expressway may not be part of the official presentation, but it made for a fitting conclusion.


[Deegan Expressway (I-87), The Bronx]

Ai Weiwei: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors will be on display through February 18, 2018. You can read more about the project and its many locations here.

Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait, MoMA

For us at CatSynth, no trip back to New York is complete without a visit to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and this time it was an exceptionally rich one, with interesting exhibitions on every floor even amidst the museum’s massive renovation project.  We begin with a look at an exhibition of prints by Louise Bourgeois that focused on her print-making work.  Although primarily known for her sculptures, Bourgeois produced a large body of printed works on paper, textiles and other materials, especially at the beginning and end of her career.  But the themes and characteristic elements remain similar regardless of medium, and the show placed the printed works in the context of her sculpture.  For example, the main atrium of the museum was dominated by one of her large iconic spider sculptures, with late-career prints surrounding it on the walls.

Louise Bourgeois: Spider
[Louise Bourgeois.  Spider (1997)]


[Installation View]

The prints in the atrium featured curved, organic forms, in keeping with the same natural focus in the spider and many of her other sculptures.  We can see this synergy between print and sculpture throughout the exhibition, with early prints and drawings informing her sculptures of the 1950s and 1960s, which combined geometric and architectural elements with organic shapes and textures.

Louise Bourgeois: Femme Maison
[Louise Bourgeois.  Femme Maison (1947)]

Louise Bourgeois: Pillar and Figure
[Louise Bourgeois.  Pillar  (1949-1950) and Figure (1954)]

The vertical nature of the forms enhances the sense of embodiment in the sculptures, while drawings like Femme Maison (shown above) make the connection literal.  Bourgeois revisited these same themes in many of her later prints, perhaps even drawing upon the earlier sculptures themselves for inspiration.

The Sky's the Limit
[Louise Bourgeois.  The Sky’s the Limit, version 2 of 2, only state (1989-2003)]

In addition to the intersection of architectural and biological forms, Bourgeois’ work often explores themes of womanhood, fertility, and sexuality. Indeed, the 1947 Femme Maison combines all three themes.  On particularly poignant series from the 1990s, late in her life, revisits motherhood embodied in Sainte Sébastienne (presumably a gender switch of the early Christian martyr Saint Sebastien).  Childbirth and pain come together in the first more literal series of images, but there is a softer element to the second series, which includes this image combining the maternal figure with a cat.


[Louise Bourgeois.  Stamp of Memories II, version 1 of 2, state XII of XII  (1994)]

Sexuality comes through abstractly in many pieces, but quite literally in some late-career drawings which have a playful, comic-like quality, as in this page from her illustrated book The Laws of Nature.


[Louise Bourgeois and Paulo Herkenhoff.  Untitled, plate 2 of 5, state X of X, from the illustrated book, The Laws of Nature (2006)]

Bourgeois celebrated both the female and male while turning some of traditional roles and stereotypes on their head.  In the above image, it is the woman who appears to be in control in the sexual moment, with the male figure more passive.  Another particularly amusing riff on gender stereotypes is her sculpture Arch of Hysteria in which a suspended male torso is used to represent “hysteria”.

Art of Hysteria
[Louise Bourgeois. Arch of Hysteria (1993) and installation view.]

Having been on the receiving end of “why are you being so emotional?” comments in the workplace, I rather enjoyed seeing this stereotype turned around.

We conclude with one last piece from the Lullaby series in which a simple red organic form is printed on sheet-music paper.

Untitled, no. 11 of 24, only state, from the series, Lullaby 2006
[Louise Bourgeois. Untitled, no. 11 of 24, only state, from the series, Lullaby (2006)]

Like the drawings from The Laws of Nature, these were done towards the end of the career.  I thought it was interesting that she chose music paper as the foundation for this series.  And for us at CatSynth, it allows us to circle back to music, which permeates our experience of art.

Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait will be on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York through January 28, 2018.  You can find out more information here.

Anne Marguerite Herbst at Far Out Gallery, San Francisco

Far Out Gallery in the Sunset district of San Francisco is currently hosting a solo exhibition of works by Anne Herbst, and we were on hand to see it and cover it on CatSynth TV.

Of course, the cat-imagery particularly caught my eye, but there are many layers beyond that. Even in the cats, one can see some of the other elements that permeate Herbst’s art, including undulating lines and traces of her body that are used both as textures and bounding elements.

There are also the frequent connections to her personal history in the inclusion of faces and hints of other people. The connection to blood comes up both in the use of color, imagery, and the context of a couple of the paintings. It features in a self portrait as well as a piece for her father’s 90th birthday, both of which are featured in the video.

Anne Herbst

Herbst took the personal history to a new level for this exhibition by re-imagining childhood drawings with her current artistic style and practice.

We see the lines, shapes, and character of her current work brought to the original cat figure from the drawing. One can also notice the blood-like elements and color in this piece.

Creatures of all sorts abound throughout. In addition to the cats, the turtle seems to be a recurring animal, and was featured prominently in the work we most associated with the exhibition title “Ripples.”

Far Out Gallery has been a great discovery for us, a place connecting us more deeply to that sometimes remote western edge of San Francisco. We are happy to have been there for both Anne Herbst’s show and Kasper Rodenborn’s earlier this season. We hope to see more in the future.

Serena Toxicat and #OaklandCatFashionWeek

Today we look back at the recent art and fashion show featuring the work of Serena Toxicat. I was fortunate to be a part of this show as a model, and it was featured in Episode 9 of CatSynth TV.

Serena Toxicat is a multi-disciplinary artist, working as a writer, visual artist, musician, and now a fashion designer – longtime readers may recognize her via our reviews of her band Protea. Her paintings were featured on the walls of Farley’s East in Oakland as the fashion show took place in the lobby. She also had her music, books, and cat-themed tarot cards on hand.

One sees themes that repeat throughout her work in various media. There are of course the cats – I particularly liked the painting featuring manuls or Pallas cats – and felines reminiscent of Egyptian iconography. But there are themes running through as well with the bright high-contrast colors and dreamlike arrangements of forms. The feline, color, whimsy and spiritual dimensions are all of a piece and come together in her life experience as well as her outward creativity.


[Photo from @serenatoxicat on Instagram]

The show itself was a fun experience. Each of us modeled two looks over the course of the evening, with more formal runway-style processions interspersed with more freeform dance sections.

A good time was had by all.

In addition to Serena and myself, the models included Ariel McEtchin, Gina Ghorbani, Charlena Verrette, Kristine Katalyst, Maya Imani, Sam Isis, and Jessa Nico.

Although the art show is now over, you can see and learn more about Serena Toxicat’s work via her Facebook page.