ENTERTAINMENT ARTS & CULTURE

What does rock music look like? Cal State L.A. gallery plays with the idea of sound

Richard T. Walker and Jacqueline Gordon, paired in a curious show at Cal State L.A.’s Luckman Gallery, both make sculptural installations that feature sound.

Walker’s sense of humor gives his work a cool charm and a secure place in the oddball category of the conceptual surreal. In a half-dozen pieces, he stages encounters between disjunctive elements: musical instruments and equipment (electric guitar, amplifier, keyboard, microphone); rocks; tree branches; lengths of neon. Where a rock is set upon a keyboard, holding down a single key, might that be called music? Rock music?

Richard T. Walker's "the other side of meaning something other than this" (detail), 2015. Neon, Casiotone MT-68 keyboard, Radio Shack TRC 220 walkie-talkie, microphone, Roland bass amplifier, rock.
Richard T. Walker's "the other side of meaning something other than this" (detail), 2015. Neon, Casiotone MT-68 keyboard, Radio Shack TRC 220 walkie-talkie, microphone, Roland bass amplifier, rock. (Luckman Gallery, Cal State L.A.)

As in his engaging, endearing video works of the past, Walker continually strives to make contact with nature’s own voice, and he comes up against the inadequacy of representation, the insufficiency of translation, the futility of it all. He suspends a microphone over a light-box photograph of snowy peaks. He abuts photographs of stones with engravings of mountain ranges to create complete, if mismatched, pictures.

In “the other side of meaning something other than this,” he uses black-and-white cords, neon and shadows to make a drawing-in-space that reads like a rebus. A little amp, wrapped like a gift, tilts back and vibrates the mechanical thrum of a walkie-talkie keyboard feedback loop. In the most recent work, a dryly absurd video, an off-camera Walker tosses stones at a cymbal standing, incongruously, on a broad stretch of desert floor. With well-aimed throws, percussion happens. The performance comes to an end when a larger projectile topples the instrument and — in a deadpan display of the interdependence of creation and destruction — kills the sound.

Gordon, in the smaller rear gallery, is the less penetrable of the two artists here. Her works hinge on binaries of comfort and discomfort, organic and synthetic, body and machine.

The different materials she uses — fake fur, blankets, ceramics, carpet — respond differently to sound, diffusing, reflecting or absorbing it, but the whole proves a muddle because of the gallery-wide sound bleed, making it hard to tell where one work sonically begins and another ends. Visually, Gordon’s works are no more self-sufficient, but what does come across powerfully, inescapably, is the experience of sound as physical presence.

Luckman Gallery, Cal State L.A., 5151 State University Drive. Through March 4; closed Fridays and Sundays. (323) 343-6604, www.luckmanarts.org

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Jacqueline Gordon's "Linda II & Tammy IV," 2016. Ceramic, ultrasonic directional speakers, carpet, extruded aluminum.
Jacqueline Gordon's "Linda II & Tammy IV," 2016. Ceramic, ultrasonic directional speakers, carpet, extruded aluminum. (Luckman Gallery, Cal State L.A.)

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