Magazine article Sculpture

The Shape of Sound: A Conversation with Julianne Swartz

Magazine article Sculpture

The Shape of Sound: A Conversation with Julianne Swartz

Article excerpt

There is a certain truth that "plain sight" offers us as visual thinkers and explorers of life. Sound, however, is often overlooked, though it is a major contributor to how we understand our surroundings. When sound and vision mix, our senses are ignited, and an emotional response occurs. It is rare that an artist is able to take the viewer's senses to a place beyond what is visible.

Julianne Swartz knows how to bridge these instinctual landscapes within our mind's eye, with work that is an elixir to the senses. Her research and resulting sculptural forms take on a physio - logical stance and provide numerous entry points to experiencing light, architecture, tone, resonance, and touch, all leading to a feeling of deep play. I spoke with Swartz about expression and was leftawestruck by the depth of thought that goes into her immense and simply beautiful projects. It is a profound statement made by an artist, when, as a viewer, you realize that the root of the work is locked within your body. Swartz is attempting to reveal something that is inside all of us-a dynamic, expressive, intimate feeling felt through the shape of sound.

Joshua Reiman: Do you make an object that makes sound, or is the sound made first and the object afterward? Are you creating the shape of sound?

Julianne Swartz: I would say that I give sound a body. The objects are the embodiment of the sound, and the sound extends the body of the object. They give shape to each other and provide context to one another. The relationship is different in each piece. In projects that are only sound, I use the sound sculpturally in order to embody it. For example, perhaps sound is spatialized within an architecture or perhaps it reverberates within a viewer's own body.

An installation that I am currently making, Re-Sounding Vessels, more literally performs the shape of sound. Sculptural objects are made first, in order to produce the sound. I make vessels out of glass and ceramic and then use a feedback process that reads the air mass in the vessel to amplify the harmonics of that form. The objects produce their own ideal frequencies-pure sine tones. There is no additive sound. That body of work is very literally about the question that you ask.

Another body of work that I am developing translates sound to movement. Sculptures made of wire, paper, ceramic, and magnets act as speakers that output recorded sounds as vibration and gesture. The series is called "Bone Scores." Older bodies of work have shaped particular sounds to particular ends, for example, as a vein through a building, or a conduit between one body and another, or as a circulatory system.

JR: What does it mean to you for your audience to hear your work before they see it? I experienced Terrain at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, where I heard it before I looked up.

JS: I'm glad that Terrain got your aural attention first. I started using sound in my work in 2005. Before that, I was working with visual perception in order to bring consciousness to the act of looking. I started to use sound because it furthered my inquiry into perception. We become alert to the distance and proximity of objects and people through hearing. There were other reasons as well. Sound activates emotional memory. Sound seems close to the subconscious. It is a less privileged and more pervasive sense than sight. You can't look away or turn away from it. Sound infiltrates space, like water or air. So your experience of hearing Terrain before seeing it is a process of infiltration. Listening can raise a viewer's awareness even before any visuals come in.

JR: It seems as if you're interested in sound creating the space for viewing, a process of viewing through sound.

JS: Sound draws attention, and listening can both focus and stretch out an experience. Prolonging the duration of a piece is really important. That is something I am going for in every work-not an instant read, but an understanding deepened through time. …

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