I am sorry to have missed Sergei Tcherepnin's opening performance at Overduin & Co., when he "played" sheets of brass.
Fortunately, the "instruments," the setting and a recording can still be experienced in the gallery's front room. They are the prelude to an engaging exhibition.
The New York artist, descended from a family of composers, is adept at combining visuals and sounds into unique, tactile experiences that break down traditional boundaries, not only between media but also between viewer and artwork.
"Brass Ensemble," as the aforementioned performance/installation is cheekily titled, consists of several freestanding, rectangular sheets of shiny brass, each attached to a transducer (a small speaker, like an earphone, whose sound is amplified by touching other objects).
Wires from each transducer snake across the floor and disappear behind scrims of striped black cloth, which are painted with abstract symbols that resemble punctuation or icons for sonic vibrations. The brass sheets are rimmed with fingerprints, attesting to Tcherepnin's "playing," and the resulting soundtrack is both predictably dissonant and unexpectedly churchy. An audience of old-fashioned wooden chairs adds to the ecclesiastical effect.
In the second room, the effect is more pedagogical. The space is filled with freestanding panels of striped cloth. The panels, on wheels, are adorned with abstract notations as well as rectangles of brass and other objects. These "blackboards" are interspersed with pairs of wood-and-metal school chairs.
Most of the panels and seats are outfitted with transducers, playing sounds from various electronic devices, mostly phones. The sounds only become audible when a viewer (or player?) touches the brass pieces or sits in the chairs. The electronic-sounding clicks, buzzes and tones are modulated and distorted by one's touch, whether stroking or pressing, sustained or staccato.
In this interactivity there is something of the children's museum, in which visitors are invited to touch and manipulate displays designed to teach. And Tcherepnin certainly instructs us on the tactility of sound. His transducers, silent to the ear, leap into sonic life only through bodily action. In his work, sound is not ambient, but something each of us feels differently and rather intimately.
Indeed, the works have another, more sensuous aspect that may be fun for kids but takes on other connotations for adults. The chairs in particular, which thump and vibrate when you sit in them, might engender sensations that feel inappropriate in a public space.
Although many artists make work that encourages audience participation, there is still something taboo about touching artworks, especially those that resemble paintings, especially with bare fingers. Crossing this boundary is exciting, in whatever context you choose to interpret that feeling.
Making sound undeniably physical, Tcherepnin points to its embodiment as it bumps against our eardrums, as well as the erotic investment that might come with that touch.