Hand Work and wear we are at ELM

Featured Project: with John Morton and Rahul Saggar

Installation in-process, Hand Work and wear we are. Photo by Yumiko Yamazaki

Composer John Morton and Artist/Engineer Rahul Saggar created an audience-activated environment at the boiler space in the ELM Foundation in Williamsburg, inviting visitors to experience a new appreciation of their sonic and spatial surroundings. Visitor’s movements activate a sensor that produces sounds, while their steps simultaneously wear away a walking path on a painted floor surface. The two inter-related installations explore both physical and sonic pathways, uncovering and revealing multiple layers of sound and color, mirroring our everyday meanderings and encounters.

Tell me about the idea for this project, a bit about your collaboration, and how did you adapt the project to this specific site?

JM: Hand Work is an interactive exploration of rhythm—both musical and environmental. As visitors move about the installation, a Lidar sensor in the center of the room sends proximity data to a computer; pre-recorded hand drumming is mixed & sonically altered depending on the location of participants. I have recorded two astonishing hand drummers—Glen Velez and Shane Shanahan and clips of their performances are “situated” throughout the floor space, giving the sense of a moveable and changeable drum circle. I am also including recordings I made of rhythmically-based environmental sounds, especially ones that are particular to the industrial setting of the Williamsburg neighborhood and specific to the boiler room. I have always had a preference to install my work in surroundings that have a history of industrial and human-intensive activities, with their associated noises, many of which may have disappeared completely from our soundscape. The boiler space at ELM has remarkable acoustics: warm and resonant, and the adjoining working factories and street life supply additional surprising sonic contributions. There is also a connection between intentional music making—on the most ancient of instruments (hand drums)—and sounds that surround and affect us, that we often choose to overlook.

Rahul and I were brought together at the suggestion of ELM director Melinda McCoy. While our work is not specifically collaborative, our conjoined installations share notions of social engagement, historical association, and an opportunity for a shared sonic and spatial adventure.

Installation view, Fever Songs, ODETTA Gallery (wall work by Meg Hitchcock). Photo John Morton

RS: wear we are is inspired by my work on large scale infrastructure projects as a civil/structural engineer. Those projects are based on movement of people, objects, water, electricity, and nature. Patterns develop as areas evolve, deteriorate, and grow based on circulation. It is an interaction of destination characteristics, route restrictions, and traveler needs.

The floor of the gallery will have multiple layers of varied colors engineered to slowly degrade, gradually wearing away the walking surface, revealing different colors and pathways as the surface erodes. The installation materially evolves as visitors/participants circulate throughout the room. The colors penetrate through the floor, into another atmosphere, into another being, and finally into the absence of color.

Access to the space at ELM allowed the project to reach a necessary scale, not only because of the uninterrupted floor size, but also because of the amount of traffic. As a piece of historic circulatory infrastructure, the boiler distributed heated water throughout a number of adjacent factories. During recent times, much attention has been focused on our ability to circulate physically. This interactive project engages wear we are through visual circulatory erosion.

Installation view, Tapestry (Rahul Saggar). Photo by Bean Camp

John Morton’s installations include Central Park Sound Tunnel, exhibited in a pedestrian tunnel north of the Central Park Zoo, a music box project based on Darwin’s writings at Wave Hill’s Glyndor Gallery, Sonic Hotel, an immersive sound installation commissioned by the Adirondack Museum and Fever Songs at ODETTA Gallery and the Morris Museum. He has received support for his work from the NEA, NYSCA and NYFA, and was in-residence at Bellagio and Bogliasco in Italy.

New York based artist/engineer, Rahul Saggar, has blended engineering and art for decades. His work has often fused traffic circulation with a visual representation of our movement and relationship to space, the trip path, and the inspiration for the movement. He attended the architecture and engineering schools at The Cooper Union, achieving a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree. He has led numerous large scale infrastructure projects throughout the NYC area.

Hand Work John Morton wear we are Rahul Saggar the Boiler @ ELM Foundation 191 N. 14th St. Brooklyn (Williamsburg) October 23 – November 20 tuesday-sunday 1-6pm opening reception Saturday Oct. 23 6-9pm info@elmfoundation.art 646-397-0356 (Note: Gallery will be closed Sat. Oct. 30 – Tues. Nov. 2)