Lucas Abela, Hye Yeon Nam, Van Sowerwine & Isobel Knowles with Matt Gingold
The Rocks, 8-16 June (Abela until 14 July)
After the orgy of spectatorship that was Vivid which saw record numbers of people flocking to the Sydney’s harbour foreshore to see the city lit up like a Christmas tree, The Rocks now seems pretty demure. However during ISEA2013 there are still some dare I say it ‘fun’ yet conceptually engaging artworks secreted in shopfronts as part of the ongoing Rocks Pop Up project.
You can locate Lucas Abela’s installation by following the noise. Emanating from a shop next door to the MCA entrance is an escalating whine of guitar feedback punctuated by strange thwacks and pings. Abela’s Temple of Din comprises two quite astounding chimera. The Pinball Pianola is an elegant object (classically decorated by visual artist Keg de Souza) combining the strings and soundboard of a piano with the flippers and ball flinging mechanism of a pinball machine. A set of toy piano keys operates the flippers that propel the ball against the thrumming strings. This sound is further amplified and the resulting noise can be tuned, or rather made nosier, via a set of knobs and switches designed by Hirofumi Uchino.
The second of Abela’s hybrids, Balls for Cathulu (2013), combines pinball mechanisms with electric guitars. It’s a five-player game with the instruments arranged to create a pentagram (decorated by heavy metal master Reverend Kriss Hades). There is a basic level of feedback at all times but as you flick the balls around they hit the live strings of the guitars setting off new wailing tones. In the centre is a series of bumpers that play percussive sounds when impacted. It’s loud, ingenious and unbelievably satisfying to play, the cause and effect a totally physically process. Plus you have permission to make a god-awful, yet aesthetically coherent racket! These creations, along with a previous work, Vinyl Rally (which I’ve yet to experience), prove Abela, already a renowned noise performer, to be a truly unique instrument builder and installation artist.Hye Yeon Nam
A few shops along you can find another two pleasing works. Korean/US artist Hye Yeon Nam’s Please Smile consists of a row of skeletal, multi-articulated hands made from neatly machined wood. Rather than being movement responsive (so mid-2000s) these appendages respond to smiles. Once they detect your upturned mouth and shiny eyes they unfold and dance for you in a variety of waving patterns. Beautifully designed, the objects themselves actually make you smile at their uncanniness (their bodily separation allowing them a suitable distance from the ambiguous depths of ‘the valley’) and you enter into a feedback loop of happiness. Van Sowerwine & Isobel Knowles
It’s a jungle in here by Van Sowerwine and Isobel Knowles (with Matt Gingold) offers a more guilty pleasure. The work is housed in a rectangular box into which you peer to see paper-cutout stop-motion animations. It’s best experienced with two people, each of main characters’ blank faces replaced with your and your companion’s visages captured by a small video camera secreted somewhere the box. At first it’s gently amusing, seeing yourself integrated into this benign public transport scenario. However if you are sitting on the right-hand side you have access to a large button which you push at various times to progress the action. In the first scene two school girls with my face start to harass a man (with the gallery invigilator’s features). Each time I press the button my behaviour gets worse, until I’m poking and slapping him and my evil twin and I turn into giant black crows and peck him to pieces. Another scenario involves a man with my face making unwanted sexual advances to the woman next me, his hands groping her until he turns into a writhing hissing snake.
Like all Sowerwine and Knowles work the cute interface lures us into darker territory and the desire to explore the narrative makes us complicit in this nastiness. It’s like a cartoon show Milgram experiment. How far will I go in my torture of others (the person actually sitting next to me) in order to experience the artwork. I am ashamed to admit, I went all the way—and I enjoyed it.
(See also RT108 for a feature article on It’s a jungle in here. Sowerwine and Knowles’ You Were In My Dreams can also be experienced as part of Experimenta’s Speak to Me at the Powerhouse, and online)