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A new exhibit at ICA highlights the creative art of vinyl records

Susan Saccoccia | 5/18/2011, 1:23 p.m.
Jeroen Diepenmaat, Pour des dents d’un blanc éclatant et saines, 2005. Record players, vinyl records, taxidermied birds and...
Jeroen Diepenmaat, Pour des dents d’un blanc éclatant et saines, 2005. Record players, vinyl records, taxidermied birds and sound. Dimensions variable. © Jeroen Diepenmaat. Image courtesy of the artist.

The apparatus of recording and playing LPs is explored in the third gallery, which showcases musician Laurie Anderson’s iconic “Viophonograph” (1977), her hybrid of a violin and record player.

David McConnell’s diverting “Phonosymphonic Sun” (2008-09) arranges six vintage record players in a semi-circle like members of a chamber music ensemble. Reassembled to flaunt their uselessness, the turntables are propped up as lids on top of the speakers. Each unit generates a distinct sound track that blends with the others into an infectious whole.

Jeroen Diepenmaat’s installation places stuffed birds on turntables, their beaks functioning as needles. West African raffia mats used for cooking swirl in place of records on the turntables of Fatimah Tuggar’s “Fai-fain Gramophone” (2010). Born in Nigeria, Tuggar pairs her entertainment center with the recordings of Barmani Choge, an all-female band that sings of female roles in the Hausa language and uses kitchen utensils as percussive instruments.  

If I could take home one work in this show, it would be the witty three-by-three grid of black and white photographs by Cape Town-born Robin Rhode. Starting with a chalk drawing of a square and a spoon-like tone arm, the ensemble progresses like an animation storyboard to show the steps of setting a record in motion on a turntable — and in the process, creates a visual image of syncopation.

Mark Soo displays wall-sized 3-D images of the installation he built to replicate the storied Sun Studio in Memphis as it may have looked in 1954, when Elvis Presley recorded his first single, bluesman Arthur Crudup’s song, “That’s All Right, Mama.” Viewing the scene through the 3-D specs, I had the tantalizing illusion of almost stepping inside the past, a longing that Seattle-based art critic Jen Graves notes in her essay about the work, writing, “The image makes you ache.”   

In the show’s fourth gallery, some works contemplate the mysteries, curiosities and rituals associated with experiencing music through record albums. Su-Mei Tse’s pristine installation “White Noise” (2009) tops a veneer cube of a turntable with a record pocked with tiny white bubbles — a tribute to dust specks.

An evocative trio of photographs by Moyra Davey includes a portrait of fast-obsolescing treasures — books and record albums, and an impressionistic close-up of a cartridge touching an LP. The record’s blurry specks of dust suggest the orbs of lantern light in a Toulouse-Lautrec painting of a Parisian dance hall.

Taiyo Kimura of Japan displays a swarm of small, ink-drawn cartoons that, alongside his five-minute video of Dadaist pranks with LP paraphernalia offers an irresistible sampling of his surreal humor. In his drawings, he plays with the black circle of a record as so much visual silly putty (in one drawing, a centipede is a tone arm).

Reveries too are on display in the arresting landscape photographs by Xaviera Simmons. In its own room, her installation “Thundersnow Road, North Carolina” (2010) features six scenes from her travels across North Carolina, each accompanied by an original soundtrack.

In the ICA’s media center is the installation “Cover to Cover,” where you can browse albums and sample music. Each of its seven turntables is equipped with a crate of 20 albums curated by a guest artist. 

Admission to the ICA is always free to youth up to age 17 and free to all on Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.