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Review Archive

Production for Use: Machines, Math & Music to Meditate On

By Chris Handyside

Metro Times, April 11 , 2007

Music and quantum physics, vigorous craftsmanship and heady ideas. The latest show at Ann Arbor's Gallery Project, Instrumental, curated by Ann Arbor artist Sharon Que and Detroit artist Graem Whyte, conjures those things and more.


With 37 pieces packed into the confines of the gallery, the exhibit meditates on "devices that facilitate creativity, work, expression and necessary tasks, as well as those which interpret the world around us."

Ambition is both a blessing and a curse. A few curatorial choices are tenuous, but many pieces — devices, schema, abstract expressions of labor and mathematical laws that define nature — illuminate the gallery with ringing insight.


Most remarkable is Arthur Ganson's "The Accumulation of Time," a meditative sculpture of steel, wire and thread shaped like a minimalist, skeletal crane set in motion by a tiny motor. The blood-red thread unspools at an almost imperceptible pace. At once gossamer-light and tough as metal, if you sit with it for a minute, you can almost sense what the industrial revolution might feel like if conceived in a Buddhist monastery.


Three pieces capture the scope of the show, at least from a two-dimensional perspective. Loralei Byatt's "7,125" lays mathematical conversion tables atop a clouded landscape of wild grass and trees. Making initial sense of the grid invites the eye to wander between numbers and nature's chaos. Detroit artist Sambuddha Saha's three-part photo print "Octaves: 2nHz, 4nHz, 8nHz" pulses with an energy that flows from the collision of math, op-art and the synaptic "a-ha!" moments that come when a complex concept like sound frequencies are rendered in visual metaphor. Deceptively simple, "Octave" is a sequence of three 2-foot-by-2-foot prints with solid dots of varying shades of gray on white. Sit with it for a while, and the idea reaches out of the static.


Farther on down the wall, Riva Sayegh's prints of left-handed gloves are perfect examples of art that is simply elegant, yet tangential to the show's theme. "Betrothed," is reminiscent of Saul Bass' choppy poster design for the film Man with the Golden Arm. "Left-handed" is an elegant gloved appendage, extending its finely tipped fingers skyward. It's clear these two pieces are about hands as instruments of communication, creation and task-mastering. To paraphrase Devo, the left hand does know what the left hand was for.

Ann Arbor artist and musician Zach Wallace nails Instrumental with "Glass Armonica" a large-than-life-sized harmonica made from nested glass bowls like snifters, skewered horizontally on a wooden spit above a tin trough. On the left end, a crank sets the bowls spinning with idiosyncratic circuits presumably representing notes along the instrument's scale. The work imposes on the gallery space with a kind of delicate demand for interactivity. It's like a machine that should have changed the world, a barely failed prototype of a grand, great idea.


Hamtramck sound artist Jeff Karolski's "Personal Parade," a DVD experience documenting one of his sound performance pieces, is a puzzler. Basically, Karolski hooked up a Hypersonic speaker, allowing him to direct sound precisely into a listener's personal space. At least that seems to be the idea behind his romp through the streets of New York City, speaker attached to a battery-powered backpack. Here's a document that leaves you wanting more, that only starts the conversation about breaking down public and private spaces. But as ideas go, it's a small wonder.


The half-dozen works in the gallery's basement fall somewhere between afterthought and overkill. They include Mitch Cope's humorously off-the-cuff "Ghetto Palm Steam Room To Cure What Ails You," a work by curator Que and Frank Pahl's elaborate wheezing set of air organs. The pieces don't respond well to one another down here. Overall though, Instrumental lives up to its promise. Taken in with a dose of inner quiet, the exhibit fairly sings.


 Instrumental runs through May 6 at Gallery Project, 215 S. Fourth Ave., Ann Arbor; 734-997-7012. Chris Handyside is a freelance writer for Metro Times. Send comments to