About this time every year our neighbor calls to gently complain about the noise coming from our pond at night. The frogs, in their throes of passion, disturb his sleep. Curious. The frogs have the opposite effect on me. They lull me to sleep, the perfect white noise machine. Yet, every once in a while, because of some kind of full agreement I don’t understand or out of caution, they’ll stop chirping. And in these quiet moments, if there’s any wind at all, I can hear that same neighbor’s numerous wind chimes.
Before visiting “The International Invitational Triennial of Contemporary Wind Chimes” at Rocksbox Contemporary Fine Art last week, I anticipated I would find myself in some sort of calamitous cacophony (sorry) of sound. Instead, in the absence of a breeze, it was only visually so.
Sixty pieces of art are scattered about the two levels and stairwell of the gallery. Most are hung on a continuous line of parachute cord latticed and woven a foot or so from the ceiling, sometimes lower. This in itself makes it rather hard to navigate some parts of the show; other times difficulty in passage is more a matter of the proximity of one piece of art to another or several pieces blocking one’s way. There is little if any perceptible wind in the space, yet manual manipulation is allowed if one wants to hear any “chiming.” Some pieces I was not inclined to touch at all, such as Gary Robbin’s chime, “Ding Dong,” which consists of a collection of black dildos.
True to the “no holds barred” approach to curation we have come to expect from the gallery’s director, Patrick Rock, the overall tenor of this exhibit is raucous, yet also imaginative and smart. Truly international, there are artists from Canada, Austria, England, France and Iceland, although the majority of artists hail from the West Coast. The chimes are organized into several categories: “Conceptual Assholes” is in a room upstairs; “Witchcraft” fills the hallway upstairs; “Show me the Money” is laid out in the stairwell; wandering the first floor space will take the visitor through “Sausage Party” (where “Ding Dong” is front and center), “Bad Habits,” “No, It’s Cool, You Can Trust me, I Am a Feminist…” and “Dirty Smelly Hippy Types.” Equally distinct is the success some pieces have over others in inventiveness and/or construction.
Not every piece in the show is a wind chime, per se, although most fit that bill. (See photos below.) As Rock pointed out to me on my visit, a number of the LA-area artists chose to be more conceptual in their approach. For instance, Pam Martin’s (Marin, CA) “Windy Willie” appears to be solely a craft magazine’s illustrated instructions on how to construct a whirligig. And while some of the actual chimes function only on a very rudimentary level, Rock assured me that most do make a noise.
By the time I was done viewing, I so much wanted to have large industrial fans strategically placed throughout the gallery. In lieu of that, I settled for one last look at Krystal South’s “Fuck Wind Chimes,” which does incorporate a small fan.
But first I have to take you back to my neighbor’s chimes. Or, for that matter, the chimes you may have in your own back yard. Whether the chimes are made of aluminum, steel or bamboo, they’re hung so that the windcatcher captures a breeze and activates the clapper’s collision against the tubes. We enjoy hearing the notes struck. Pretty straightforward. Please note I did not write anything about hearing a melody, for no matter how relaxing we might find the sounds, they are irregularly sequenced. This element of chance is present in Pierre Huyge’s “Wind Chimes after ‘Dream’ (John Cage)” in the Walker Art Center Sculpture Garden and makes for a sublime experience. For another, less elegant yet astutely funny ode to John Cage, see Sean Joseph Patrick Carney’s “eWind Chime 4’33” (JC)” in the Triennial.
Randomness also seems to be a vital component in South’s piece A small, black plastic fan like one in a personal computer spins at a high rate of speed. The speed of the fan provides a “surface” of sorts and allows for a projection of various sequences containing three words: “Fuck Fucking Windchimes,” all in capital letters. Sometimes it reads “Fuck Windchimes,” sometimes “Fuck Wi” or other segments of text, and sometimes the words or parts of words flicker in and out. The whole phrase is displayed much less often than the other manifestations, and it was while waiting to photograph the complete phrase that I came to a full appreciation of the irregular “rhythm” of the piece and therefore the frustrated tone of the title. I suppose some people rely on the gratification a steady melody brings.
Be advised: I am glad I have my frogs, because the simple pleasure I might have derived in the past from wind chimes is forever changed. (Not that I mind.) And viewer beware: “Untoward” is not the all-encompassing theme of this exhibit, yet there is enough of the nudge-nudge, wink-wink to overwhelm the more sincere efforts at fabricating something approximating a traditional chime. Likewise, the over-blown, tongue-in-cheek title for this exhibit. It has not escaped me that this show is happening at the same time as Disjecta’s biennial, Portland 2014 and the Whitney Biennial. It calls for a comparison, yet in the spirit and personal aftermath of “The International Invitational Triennial of Contemporary Wind Chimes,” I will not oblige.