a charlotte street 15 year anniversary project considering the history and future of artist-driven pioneering in Kansas City and the changing nature of the city's "frontiers"
The below text is from an interview I conducted with Heather Lustfeldt and Oz McGuire, co-curators of Conditions of Sound, an exhibition at the Charlotte Street’s Urban Culture Project’s Boley space, 12th and Walnut, in 2005.
Heather Lustfeldt: When Oz and I came together on this project we were both inspired by a piece by Benjamin Thorpe in the B.F.A. show last year at the Artspace. What struck me about it when I first heard it was how he was able to capture the sounds of the street by recording them at night and playing them back during the day in the Artspace. He was able to frame, compartmentalize and recontextualize the sounds the same way painters do with paint. On one hand he captured the random noises of life, but he was really controlling them and manipulating them and compartmentalizing them within the gallery. That’s what the artists are trying to do here, and that’s why we are interested in sound as art medium.
Oz McGuire: It’s good to think about it in parallels to the visual art world. So you have a landscape painter, and you might have a soundscape artist. I consider Dwight Frizzell’s piece a kind of a soundscape. Instead of a representational painting of a jet, he’s just taking the sounds of it flying off, and the surroundings, which are crickets. And so you’re sitting in the room and instead of looking at this painting of a plane taking off in a field you are just sitting in the field itself with your eyes closed. You can hear the crickets and the plane take off and maybe use your imagination and your mind a bit differently. It enhances certain senses while taking away from other parts of the senses.
HL: He calls it a sound design. It’s an installation based on designing sound in a particular way and layering it with instruments. It’s tapping into a different part of your brain—a different part of your visualization and imagination skills where you have to visualize an image in a new way. Sound is so intertwined with memory. It has multiple connotations. When you hear it, it brings to mind different kinds of memories, different kinds of sensibilities. So, in the same way a painting or a photograph invites us to think about the past, the present, and the future all at once, with sound you can do the same thing.
OM: When you hear the crickets in winter—you know you forget about them 8 months out of the year—all of a sudden you are taken back to a warm season.
HL: Exactly. It brings out the color green. It brings up all these different things.
HL: We hear the power of the jet engines taking off. It’s very guttural. It reminds me of a runway, and I see an airport. I see industry. I see mechanics. I smell fuel. It’s all-encompassing and gets us viscerally and sensorally involved.
OM: One concession we asked artists to make was to consider the possibility of making lulls in pieces so certain times other pieces would be more prominent than others. That’s what made Dwight go in and re-do the piece to include crickets so it wouldn’t be just constant jet engine. Cody Critcheloe’s video has four minutes of the green screen and behind-the-scenes extra footage just so it’s not always cacophony. There are certain moments where different pieces are coming in and out.
HL: Layers were made the way Kandinsky layered his paintings. He was thinking about music and sound in his paintings The whole notion of sound as art medium isn’t really new. Modernists, in the beginning of the 20th century and even in the 19th century, used sound to make art in different ways and to make people think in different ways. We asked artists to create lapses in their piece and layer sound in the same way a painter would layer color to create balance. We as humans are able to navigate the very busy sensory overload we encounter every day both visually and orally. I think Oz and I realized from the very beginning that it would be a challenge for visitors to be able to do that. But we also had confidence that it would work out, because that is part of life. Our minds are able to navigate these things without going crazy.
OM: We wanted to get a broad range of different artists working with the medium, from super tech-savvy, which would be like Benjamin Thorpe, to something like David Ford’s piece, which is ghetto fabulous.
HL: Yeah, a little more garage-y. It’s interesting to look at Jim Woodfill, who is using the medium of sound in a very different way with his piece. It doesn’t actually have any aural sound to it, but the piece is driven by random frequencies of the radio that create a visual dynamic. It was very important to us to have some pieces in the exhibition by artists who could add that visual component. In the end, actually every piece has a visual component to a certain extent.
OM: And the space is pretty new, so there hadn’t been much going on. There wasn’t a big precedent to follow, which was nice to have but kind of scary, too.
HL: We had a lot of fun with it. We were careful about the artists we chose because we knew there were going to be some technical challenges working in a space so rough. We were prepared for that, and we are prepared for that everyday when we come in. But luckily the pieces are so well constructed and so well conceived that we are able to troubleshoot fairly easily. That’s why we chose the artists we chose because we really needed that level of confidence in their abilities to technically master their pieces within a rough space that is full of variables on a daily basis. We are always at the mercy of the technology of the building and the limitations that we have. I consider it successful.
OM: Urban Culture Project has been great helping us find gear for a show on no budget. Pulling strings and making it happen.
HL: If we do this again we want to keep it fresh. We want to continue to expand upon these ideas. I think the advantage we have now is we know the space a little bit better. We know what is possible and what is impossible. And what is interesting is that almost nothing’s impossible.
OM: What’s great about this show is that everybody came to it pretty openly. To come into a show like this and have people’s heads turned a little because their kids play with some of the artwork—they will start to realize that it’s not a stagnant thing. That’s one of the reasons that I wanted to do a show like this. That’s a great thing contemporary art can do for people.
OM: Everyone is attracted to Mark Southerland’s piece for the formal beauty and to see how it works. David Ford’s piece is one that a lot of kids love.
HL: Kids just adore that piece. It’s fun. There’s often sound exhibitions where you have just headphones. That invites a very different kind of experience. We are interested in that, but we are more interested in creating a participatory, open environment without compartmentalization. So it could be a little more interactive.
OM: As far as sound is concerned and music and art in general, I don’t believe you have to think in only one way or believe in one thing. I like club music, obviously, because I deejay a lot, but I like ambient music and difficult music. I don’t think there’s any contradiction in joining those two things and putting them together. I think that is what creates a dynamic in this show that a lot of shows tend to lack.