A review of Tony Nicholls' recent exhibition
Enjoy Gallery, Wellington
18 September - 4 October 2008
Have you ever tried to imagine what sound looks like? Tony Nicholls has, and has constructed five exquisite and ungainly machines at Enjoy Gallery to show it to us.
Nicholls’ ‘visual amplifiers’ are stimulated to motion by a combination of sound that can be heard and sound below of threshold of our hearing (infra-sound). Soundtracks from a sine wave generator are emitted through domestic speakers and amplifiers, and manifested as motion in the steel and wire sculptures.
Sharing the space with these alien musical instruments is pleasantly eerie. Nicholls’ sculptures may remind one of Len Lye’s work (with whom he had an exhibition, 'Double Harmonic', at the Govett-Brewster last year), yet they are appealingly gauche rather than strident; they do not boom and roil like those of the grandfather of kinetic sound art.
Tyler Cann has written, "Nicholls’ kinetic sculptures ... extend and perhaps reverse the relationship between sound and motion" to be found in Lye’s work. "Here sound is not only a product of motion, but drives the movement itself."
Synaesthetic art – work which combines perceptual experience in one mode with an experience in a different sense – is historically dominated in New Zealand by Len Lye. What’s interesting here is that Nicholls' work seems to fluently pick up on this conversation, despite their half-century of separation.
'Aletheia', the exhibition title, is the Greek word for truth: ‘the state of being made evident’. Nicholls’ work responds to this on two fronts. Included in the exhibition is an unfinished sculpture, which we are invited to explore the tools and workings of, see for what it is, incomplete.
On another level, the motion works make us newly aware of the aural experience. As R K Schafer has said: "The sense of hearing cannot be turned off. There are no ear lids", yet it is a sense less acknowledged. Silence, stillness and darkness are perhaps equally discomfiting for most humans; here we see sound and motion equated with light and visuality, in one artist’s clear yet unassuming definition of ‘truth’.
Reviewed and written by Abby Cunnane
Tyler Cann cited by Wystan Curnow in Art New Zealand, No.123.
R K Schafer cited by Alan Licht, Sound Art (New York: Rizzoli, 2007), p.14.
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