The group show “Formula 1: A Loud, Low Hum” at CUE Art Foundation raises questions on the meaning of visual formulae in contemporary art without falling into the trap of formulaic. The genesis of this three-person sculpture group show started with an open call in which the curators Mira Dayal and Simon Wu asked savvy art viewers to suggest “formulas,” that is, combinations of materials and tropes used, or perhaps overused in art today. Out of the 67 formulas submitted, the curators selected the ones they both found intriguing and invited Nikita Gale, Amanda Turner Pohan, and Laurie Kang to come up with responses to formulas that invoked the hard and soft, technological and biological, individual and institutional. Gale’s body-like textures, Pohan’s sleek kinetic sculptures, and Kang’s architectural steel structure, all merge industrial off the shelf materials with invisible elements such as sound, vibration, and sensitivity to light. Like the relationship of body and mind, their fragmented materials assume meaning through the hidden forces that seem to operate them.
Sound as a metaphor links Gale’s and Pohan’s sculptures. In “Fixed Loop I-II” Gale uses sound insulation materials to form a soaring totem-like wall relief made of steel skeleton, polyurethane foam and terrycloth hardened in concrete, with Minimalist monochrome patterns and Art Povera tactility. Her other sculpture, made of a TS audio cable covered in part with similar audio-insulation materials, sprawls on the floor like a menacing reptilian entity, which can be interpreted as both feminine and phallic. The visceral presence of these objects is not as much due to their crude tactility and austere aesthetics, but rather to what they are not: their voided sound, their silence.
Diagonally across from Gale’s sonic void, Pohan’s robotic bronze electroplated hand of Calliope, a muse who is typically depicted with a writing tablet as an inspiration for poets, seems at first glance to move without any purpose. But a second look towards the other side of the space reveals the missing part, “Ololyga, ololyzo, elelu, elelizo, alala, alalazo, io (read out),” an 11×17” screen playing a digital readout of the seemingly meaningless words typed out by Calliope’s robotic arm, as if on a keyboard. These words are actually terms for different shrieks associated with women’s voices. Pohan’s notions of sound and silence derive from Anne Carson’s fascinating essay “The Gender of Sound” (1995), which looks at how women’s voices have been pathologized and controlled throughout history and mythology. Carson identifies these specific words as being of Indo-European origin, describing “intense pleasure or intense pain.”
The juxtaposition of Pohan’s transcribed female lamentations and Gale’s sense of “silence” creates a layered experience for the viewer, evoking thoughts on possible relationships between sound, control, and resistance. In his essay “Hear Away Closer: Notes on Sonic Sensibility,” included in the excellent catalogue that accompanies the show, Tausif Noor likens the tension between authority and resistance to a struggle between the muffling of defiant voices and their ability to penetrate bodies and borders.
The notion of borders and their relationship to the individual is well expressed in Laurie Kang’s “Involusion.” This massive scaffolding-like steel structure curves and divides the gallery space, literally functioning as a border, albeit a porous one. It allows you to cross from one side to the other, blurring the division between inside and outside, perhaps with the promise to better navigate different perspectives. This skeletal curvy structure is peppered with mounted pictograms, large-scale unfixed light-sensitive photographic papers which sublty change throughout the show. On each side of the “border,” a commercial stainless-steel bowl often used for fermenting kimchi contains a cast of lotus root drowned in pigmented silicone, also strongly resonating with the body—intestinal, phallic, organic.
There are neither spectacles nor one liners in “Formula 1: A Loud, Low Hum” at CUE. The show’s rigorous curation requires a slow observation. Only upon a closer look do the interconnections seep through. Although the artworks are loaded with allusions to cultural cues, they do not collapse under heavy text, successfully stand on their own, and most importantly, create a relevant discourse which is still with me after viewing.
All photos courtesy the artists and CUE Art Foundation