Unpredictable Forms of Sound and Motion at Bitforms
529 West 20th Street
New York, NY 10011
January 24 through March 7, 2009
Initial Thoughts of the installation work of Pe Lang + Zimoun at bitforms gallery
I remember being a small child and roaming around in my parents’ backyard, exploring, as I often did. There was a 2x4 piece of decaying wood on the ground, surrounded by pine needles and leaves, and I casually overturned it with my hand. What I saw underneath for a small moment (jerking my hand back in horror) has stayed with me to this day, and it is, I’ve come to believe, a reference, an anchor, a visual footnote that informs the underbelly, partially, of how I’ve come to apprehend certain forms of motion.
Underneath the rotting piece of wood scampered countless insects, mostly gray and black beetles. It was as if the entire underbelly of the plank was undergoing a series of electric shocks and was conveying that through visual motion along the surface.
I was both repulsed and fascinated, of course, and the image has stuck with me.
At bitforms gallery, I saw this same movement, displayed on the walls and hanging from the ceiling and I approached it with a modicum of caution in spite of myself. What Pe Land + Zimoun have constructed is a physical and electronic representation of what I’ve come to believe is a kind of archetype of some sort.
Insect movement is wholly unlike movement found anywhere else. The movement itself is lightning fast, can stop/start and change direction on a dime, and is a physical embodiement of something we may come to understand as entirely inhuman (un-human?).
There are three distinct pieces at bitforms by Pe Lang + Zimoun. They all fall under the umbrella title of “Untitled Sound Objects”. They are each worth mentioning. They are all constructed from electric vibration or DC motors, and they each present a similar kind of movement that is found in the insectoid underbellies of nature all around us.
One piece involving DC motors is entitled Untitled Sound Objects - 100 Prepared DC Motors and Chains in Wooden Type Cases. All 100 motors and chains lie in their own respective boxes within a larger shelving fixture (or, installation). The DC motors are prepared in such a way tso that when turned on, each individual motor turns a small chain which merely hangs from the motor shaft. The very movement of these hanging, turning chains (and the ensuing racket) is pleasurable, but does not, in the end, deeply entrance, electrify and even disturb me like the others do.
The two pieces that utilize vibration motors, essentially, small, round, black nubs at the end of dual-wires (red-blue, pos-neg): Untitled Sound Objects - 49 Prepared Vibration Motors, and Untitled Sound Objects – 400 Prepared Vibration Motors in Wooden Type Cases. The first piece comprises 49 hanging vibration motors. The movement is not unlike spying a group of tiny swarming insects in a small patch of the air on an early-summer evening, just before dusk. It almost seems as if the insects are bounding off of each other, which is exactly what the vibration motors are doing. They’re not silent, but they are nearly so. Watching the mindlessness of the procession is transfixing and somewhat disturbing.
The final piece I’d like to address is Untitled Sound Objects – 400 Prepared Vibration Motors in Wooden Type Cases. When this piece is turned on, all the motors jump around their respective cases, as if they’re insectoid-like. Stepping back from it a ways, it resembles more and more an extreme close-up of a cross-section of a mechanical beehive. It certainly sounds like it, as well, in its own mechanical way. The movement is there, that electric, dynamic sense of disquiet that characterizes insect worlds. It’s an alien movement and, in the countless methods we all use to not only communicate but also to apprehend the world; in many cases it is the information that shuttles beneath the linguistic and semiotic radar that sometimes is the most important: colors, smells and, especially, movement.
The very notion of how separate and alien the movements are in these pieces illustrates how distant (alien) insect life (movement) is to us humans.
Which is, to me, comforting.
Hans Michaud is a freelance journalist in New York.
SEND THIS WRITER A MESSAGE: