Bocanegra's 'I Write the Songs': Art Review

Posted by Elizabeth Porfido

Susan Bocanegra's "I Write the Songs," in the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, creatively features mixed-media wall works and sound and video installations. The exhibit runs until Jan. 2.

Contained to a single dark room on the second floor, closed off with thick black curtains, "I Write the Songs" contrasts the free form abstract "Jewel Thief" exhibit. Each of Bocanegra's five pieces has its own speaker set that plays different tracks of ambient music.

Since all of the speakers play simultaneously, an eerie tone settles over the room. The painted black walls emphasize the only light sources, spotlights on the pieces and the four television screens.

Bocanegra's "Color Chart" consists of a box of yarn organized in five columns and five rows and a speaker playing music.

 By observing the piece alone I was not able to understand the artist's vision, but the pamphlet provided by the Tang brought dimension to the piece.

Each ball of yarn has a name, and each syllable of these names was given a specific vocal sound by the artist. A musician then strung together these syllables to create a fluid sound, which was played through the speaker. With the yarn and music in sync, the artist creates the sound of color in her piece.

The next piece in the space is an ancient fragment of a blue and white Danish tapestry hanging from the ceiling. Titled "After Rerememberer (All the Threads)," the fabric shyly dances while the bottom tassels just barely touch the ground.

In general fabric is woven in a five-line staff, which mimics the composition of music. Bocanegra used this parallel structure to create an interaction between the fabric and the music.

The proportions of the thread count and the numerical ordering of the loom for the weaving pattern serve as the score and scenario for the entire installation. Accordion dominates the music and can be clearly heard above all the other tracks. The tapestry hanging from the ceiling with the music playing brought life to the fabric. Its slight movements were extrapolated until the tapestry embodied the music it devised.  

The next piece in the show is Bocanegra's "All the Petals" based on Jan Bruegel the Elder's "Sense of Smell," 1618. Bocanegra broke down flower by flower Bruegel's original painting of a bouquet of flowers to create an expansive wall mount.

 Clusters of thin paper in the shape of petals are pinned to the wall with black ribbon. The number of petals in each cluster is proportionate to the number of petals in each flower in Bruegel's original painting, as is their spacing.

The petal colors are mostly warm tones, primarily red, orange and yellow, with hints of dark blue, creating a stark contrast against the black wall.

Just as "All the Petals" ‘de-painted' Bruegel's bouquet of flowers, Bocanegra's "Little Dot" breaks down the specific dots used to create Georges Seurat's pointillism painting "Young Woman Powdering Herself."

Seurat's 14 dominant colors are represented by 14 pairs of ballet slippers, each of which sits atop a wooden pole.

Bocanegra sorted all of the dots in the painting and created the choreography for a dance that is performed by a ballerina on the platform, fenced in by the poles of slippers.

With an accompanying computer generated score, the painting can be seen and heard as a live performance.

In her final piece, Bocanegra set up a collection of video recording. In a past live performance, Bocanegra had scattered various pages of already composed loose sheet music on a kiosk and invited the public to draw random figures on the pages.

When a drawing on the page of music was complete, it was brought to a stage using a pulley system and interpreted by the FLUX Quartet.

Each musician played music based on the existing notes on the page and the drawing. Each of the four members of the quartet played different pieces simultaneously, creating an overall unified sound of the public's art.

Drawing inspiration from already existing art, Bocanegra challenges conventional notions of art and the various forms that art can take.

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