Perambulating the Bounds

Monday, January 30, 2006

nym 310 Chestnut

A new group of Watkins students got into the one-night event act last Saturday with a show at 310 Chestnut. It unusually coherent and ambitious, with the pieces organized around explorations of language. Even the show title was intriguing, ____nym, with references to all of the switching implied by the “nym” suffix.

The best part were the sounds. Ken Nakamura’s Grain was a single grain of rice put on a spindle and rotating rapidly against a turntable stylus. The playback was a sweet rumble that varied within a narrow range. The piece had several levels of significance, like the presumed fragility of the setup, the centrality of a rice grain in the hands of a guy with a Japanese surname, and all the details of the construction, like the way the tone arm was lodged in the pedestal.

Parker ClenDening’s video with a title something like It’s OK to Get Mad showed someone dropping jars on a kitchen floor, edited to creation a steady stream of popping sounds that spelled out the title phrase in Morse code. Parker’s brother Will told me that the action in the video derived from something there mother would do when they got mad, give them a jar to break. My favorite part of this was the sound, which was juicy and contained the hollowness of the jars.

Other language elements in the show included Braille (Matt Christy), graphs of three versions of spoken phrase (Amethyst Stark), Christina Wing’s riffs on Barbara Kruger-like combinations of text overlaid on photos, and Chris Doubler’s video of women’s lips mutely mouthing words.

Allison Boyd did an installation that flashed images of dictionary entries and isolated words or parts of words on the wall of an alcove draped in white sheets. The words were usually blurry or moved too quickly to focus on, and the light cane in and out with a strobe effect. The effect was strongest if you sat in the schoolroom chair set down just inside the alcove. The movement of the light and the difficulty focusing quickly sucked you into this space.

The work on display Saturday night speaks well for the vitality of the Watkins program. Even with everything that went on last year, and with Barbara Yontz leaving this year, it looks like it is possible that there is still plenty of energy among the students.


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