between the sea and the sea, 2015, correction fluid on a collection of Andalusian poems (translated from Spanish versions of Arabic from the 9th and 13th centuries). Images courtesy of the artist.
Audra Wolowiec explores the materiality of language via text, sound, sculpture, and collaborative projects. Her recent solo exhibition at Studio 10, entitled ( ), presented both the immateriality and materiality of her subject matter as subtle and poetic experiences. As the parentheses in the show’s title suggest, the exhibition placed the in-between spaces in spoken and written language at its center. How do we read ( )? As silence? Parentheses? Space? Breath? A gap? Wolowiec is not presenting conclusions. She is inviting the viewer to investigate the ineffable.
Wolowiec used Studio 10 as a recording lab and played the results on several clustered speakers, which sporadically emitted soft incantatory sounds and words associated with the sea. In my attempt to hear the content of the audio, I was placed in a pleasant reversal—not leaning over or walking toward “the ocean,” but on my toes, looking up at the speakers dangling like clunky seaweed strands above me. I was at sea. Or under it? The unending loops of ocean waves and brain waves came to mind. Wolowiec wasn’t attempting to capture pauses. Rather, she allowed us to linger in the quieter moments of speech and movement.
( ) points to an unspeakable ambiguity that evokes the silences in John Cage’s works (most prominently 4’33”), or in Rosmarie Waldrop’s poems (like those in the volume Gap Gardening). Like Waldrop, Wolowiec mines language visually and syntactically. The results do not point at the results—they are rich process and rhythm cues, evidence that language is audible even in its silence, and visible in the margin and spaces of its arranging and rearranging. The betweens are not empty spaces, just as ( ) is not empty space. The dictionary defines between as “at, into, or across the space separating (two objects or regions).” The sea is the between (at, into, or across) and we hear and see it in ( ). In addition to sound, Wolowiec’s installation included scores—framed erasures of text where the letters S, E, A stayed on the page among punctuation and white space—prompting us to mind the gap between listening and looking.
Detail of private space in a public time, 2016, installation with sound at MASS MoCA, screenprint ink and paint on wall.
Wolowiec’s warm-up (2013) also deals with the physicality of the spoken word. Loudspeakers embedded in wooden beams lean against walls in various diagonals. Viewers/listeners have to position themselves close to the beams in order to hear the sounds of performers reciting voice exercises. The act of the warm-up in preparation for a performance is central to Wolowiec’s practice, as she places the unseen, unheard, and often overlooked at the center, creating a new context. The gaps between the conception of a work, the making/rehearsing, and the presentation are left open.
warm-up, 2013, sound installation (featuring the voices of Sonia Villani, Tara Pelletier, and Davi Cohen), wooden beams, MP3, and speakers.
As part of The Space Between, MASS MoCA’s current group exhibition, Wolowiec restaged her work private space in a public time. Based on Vito Acconci’s text “Public Space in a Private Time,” an audio loop and text employ redacted language and the auditory and visual qualities of breaths and silences in thought and speech.