Peter Eudenbach: From Cricket Songs to Solar Panels

In Dialogue

A framed picture of a person sitting in a chair

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Virginia-based artist Peter Eudenbach says that while he has always been interested in making things, his pathway to studio art was through the humanities. The history of art and ideas became part of his language even before he found his voice as an artist. His belief that studio practice has the most potential to make sense of human experience was a significant driver in his choice to pursue an art career.

Your work includes sculpture, video, installations, and curatorial projects. It seems that in all of them, you look at objects of every day–their function and absurdity. In that context, what can you tell us about Jurassic Serenade (2016), a sculpture with a sound component, and the more recent Portal (2021)?

Jurassic Serenade is a sound sculpture inspired by what may be the oldest recorded sound on earth. In 2012, scientists discovered a fossilized cricket wing in Northwestern China. This meticulously detailed fossil enabled a team of researchers to reconstruct the cricket’s song from the stridulations in the wing. Crickets make songs by rubbing their wings together to attract a mate. This call into the darkness from the Jurassic Period (165 million years ago) was resurrected from its suspended state and reanimated in the 21st century.[1]

That the fossil was found in China is especially remarkable since the Chinese have a long tradition of keeping crickets for their songs as a form of auditory incense. Crickets have long been associated with death and resurrection since they disappear in the autumn and return in the spring. Elaborately decorated cricket cages were commissioned by nobility and became a highly evolved art form in China.

For this piece, the amber “vessel” shape is based on the shape or pulse envelope of the reconstructed cricket song. Long known for preserving insects, amber is a liquid that has solidified. I felt this was appropriate for a fragment of ancient music trapped in stone. The ebony horn was made to resemble the mouthpiece of an early telephone to suggest a parallel between insect communication and the history of communication among humans. A small speaker inside the mouthpiece emits an original composition by sound artist Alfredo Marin. The music is based on the reconstructed cricket song. An echo from millions of years ago that no human had ever heard before.

A close-up of a chess piece

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Jurassic Serenade, 2016 Carved amber and ebony, sound component Overall 1x1x5.”

Portal, 2023, is an electric fireplace powered by solar panels. The piece is about the transfer of energy and refers to Marcel Duchamp’s 11 Rue Larrey from 1927. Duchamp (the ultimate alchemist and conceptual pioneer) created a metaphor from a simple solution to an architectural problem. When one door closes, another opens. This art historical reference, along with the history of energy from Prometheus to solar panels, considers how we see opportunities in relation to obstacles. It also calls into question assumptions about the linear progression of technology.

A solar panel on a table

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Portal, 2023 Prehung door, electric fireplace, solar panels, Overall 30x80x30”

Your sculpture extends to what you call “curatorial interventions” in public spaces, as in All is Always Now, at the Hermitage Museum and Gardens in Norfolk, Virginia, where objects belonging to you were displayed in the permanent collection at the Museum. Can you elaborate on this project – your thought process, some specific details, and overall approach?

Since artists don’t simply make objects but make associations, the increasing number of artists engaged in curatorial practice is a natural progression. If we agree with Duchamp that the people make the pictures, we could say that it is the people who make the associations. The focus on institutional critique is not simply about unpacking the nature of museum collections. It is also about how even institutional collections have their own subjective or even personal origin. Museums created from collector’s homes or artist’s studios are already curatorial interventions. The relocated Barnes Collection or the reconstruction of Brancusi’s studio at the Pompidou are perhaps the best-known examples.

The very act of collecting and curating is itself subjective or even devotional. Museums are places or temples where objects are anointed with meaning or value. Even ordinary objects can be validated or, in a sense, consecrated to become secular relics. Perhaps the very first readymades were not by Duchamp but by the creators of wunderkammers that emerged in Europe centuries earlier.

All is Always Now, my curatorial project at the Hermitage Museum and Gardens, was a natural extension of how I use found objects as an attempt to glean poetry from banality. An example from that show was this vintage TV antenna displayed with the museum’s collection of Buddhas. This now obsolete device for receiving signals becomes an electronic halo connecting technology with divination.

A collection of gold statues on a glass shelf

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Antenna, 2013 Aluminum and Bakelite 1950’s TV antenna flanked by ancient Buddhas

What are the roles of photography and video in your work, and how do you see their relation to sculpture and curatorial interventions?

Most of my photos and videos are found sculptures or found installations. They are an overview of my visual sensibility and part of an ongoing notetaking process in relation to my practice. If I look carefully, I can often find objects or materials that are already transformed and arranged better than I might have done. All that is left at that point is to document them.

A large rock on the ground

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Monolith, 2017 digital print

You have a new series of cyanotypes. Can you tell us about that and what else you have been working on lately?

No Such Thing as Stillness, 2022 is a series of cyanotype prints inspired by 4’33”, arguably the most famous musical composition by John Cage. Each print was made by exposing the mechanism of a metronome beneath the moving sun for exactly 4 minutes and 33 seconds. The French called the first photographs “sun sculptures.” My interest in cyanotypes is the ability to create an image directly from an object. This was also part of their appeal in the 19th century when they were used mostly for scientific purposes. The process was invented by Sir John Herschel, who was also an astronomer. These images of metronomes floating in the dark blue field call to mind early satellites or space probes.

A blue background with a clock and gear

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No Such Thing as Stillness, 2022 Cyanotype print of a metronome mechanism exposed for 4’33” Edition of unique prints, 13×10” each.

I am also currently working on a photo series featuring an ice cream scoop that has been modified to function like a sundial, transforming a mundane object into a device that responds to celestial motion.

A close-up of a radar

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Not Yet Titled, Digital Print 2023

All photos courtesy of the artist

About the artist: Peter Eudenbach was born in Newport, RI, and received his MFA in sculpture from The Ohio State University. He uses sculpture, video, photography, and curatorial projects that play with function and absurdity while challenging our expectations of the commonplace. Eudenbach’s work has been shown nationally and internationally at venues including Exit Art in New York; the Kunstverein Grafschaft Bentheim in Neuenhaus, Germany; the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, VA; the Redwood Library & Athenaeum in Newport, RI, and at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art in Charleston, SC. His work is in permanent collections, including the Barry Art Museum in Norfolk, VA, the Dollar Tree Corporation, and the Weatherspoon Museum in Greensboro, NC. He lives in Norfolk, Virginia, where he is a professor in the Art Department at Old Dominion University.

  1. With many thanks to Dr. Fernando Montealegre‐Zapata who analyzed the fossil to reconstruct the song of the Jurassic bush cricket (Archaboilus musicus) and to Sergey Jivetin, and Alfredo Marin for their contributions to this project.