Blog / Staying in the groove

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citizen-scientist-webBy Wendy

Artists in “The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl” have long given up the idea of the record as precious object. Sure, many of these artists have extensive record collections at home, maybe even alphabetized in perfect order. But in their work, artists use the vinyl record like paint on a canvas.

Here in “The Record” you’ll find more than 3,400 vinyl records:  stacked into a tower, pulverized and melted down into objects, rendered in cardboard with hand-drawn grooves, warped into a sort of buckyball, broken apart and jigsawed back together, molded in ice,  subjected to a raw chicken leg. The record becomes “metaphor, archive, artifact, icon, portrait or transcendent medium,” as curator Trevor Schoonmaker puts it.

“The Record” is groundbreaking, for sure. But it’s not the final word on records in art. We checked in with several artists to find out what they’ve being doing with vinyl lately.

Sean Duffy, who lives in California, included several vinyl elements in last year’s “Can’t Stop It” at Susanne Vielmetter’s L.A. gallery  and also in a current show at the Laguna Art Museum. Sean loves working with vinyl for lots of reasons.
“There’s the pratical reason that I have tons of records, and now that I’m a ‘vinyl guy’ people give me their record collections when they’re ready to get rid of them,” he said by e-mail. “I also like the 20ish-minute LP side.  It matches my attention span perfectly. Then there’s the album cover.  Probably the largest photographic image in most homes when I was a kid.  And still, because you can hold it, a really compelling form of image. Finally, I think of vinyl as sculptural sound.  You can see the groves in the record and the needle running in the groves is a very mechanic/physical experience (this is especially apparent with Victrolas).”

On a trip earlier this fall to New York City, I caught up with artist Xaviera Simmons, who took me to  Spurtree, a little neighborhood bar at Orchard and Grand, where her good friend DJ Belinda Becker was spinning Reggae records.  For “The Record,” Xaviera created photographs of the North Carolina landscape and solicited musical responses from Mac McCaughan of Superchunk, Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio, Jim James of My Morning Jacket and other musician friends. The original songs were pressed onto a 12-inch record that plays in a loop with her installation.

From now on, Xaviera told me, she plans to create a record just about every year. Recently she has even begun making her own music.

Also while in New York, I stopped by  “Greater New York”  (now closed) at MoMA’s PS1 in Queens to see a work by artist William Cordova, who was born in Lima, Peru. “Laberintos (after octavio paz)” was a  labyrinth made of record sleeves. I admired the fragile little walls of records, held together by Scotch tape,  and wanted to try to walk the paths bathed in dusty sunlight from the old windows. I wondered why he chose these particular records, and then found out he brought them from “an Ivy League institution that borrowed 200 Inca artifacts from Peru in 1914 and refuses to return them.”

William is working on a new vinyl record project for next spring, he told me, and continues to be drawn to records in his work.

“Today we lack  examples and have successfully conformed not to technological advances but how corporate media proposes we live, listen and enjoy music,” William said in an email.  “Vinyl is organic and contains grooves physically embossed like human fingerprints. Prints represent an individual while looking completely abstract in form.  Vinyl records can represent this through their ability to record moments, sounds or people in a capacity that can be collectively shared or in private. Vinyl, unlike today’s more contemporary forms of creating music, used to incorporate listening parties where many would share meditative moments and then converse about that experience.”

Houston-based artist Dario Robleto included several works relating to album covers in his recent show at ACME Gallery, “Folks on the Fringe,” which earned high praise in the L.A. Times: “a dazzling display of patience, humility and empathy.” The image above is Dario’s beautiful work on paper depicting nine 45-rpm records by “forgotten amateur scientist weekend bands,” all from his imagination. (I love how the black 45s peek up out of the sleeves!) As usual, it’s hard to see the details (and humor) in a JPEG image, so I have written out a few of the fictive song titles that Dario matched with geeky scientist bands:
“Survival Does Not Lie in the Heavens,” by the Amateur Telescope Makers of Boston.
“Won’t Give in to Human Nature” by The Tree Cysts.
“Clandestine Chemistry (M. Curie)” by The Chemistry Set.
“Disappointment is a Philosophy” by The SETI League.
“Even the End Will Pass” by The Census (of Marine Life).

Pop music and DJ mixing have been central to Dario’s work for years.
“The influences of music/vinyl culture are always part of the DNA of my work, even if it’s not overt,” he said in an email. “It’s always there in my relationship to history and materials as inherently ‘remixable.’ I have recently begun to reinvestigate ideas around the album cover as an art form largely from talking and thinking about ‘The Record’ show. My central themes of loss and absence are still there but in an unexpected way by looking at specific album covers of the past.”

IMAGE: Dario Robleto, “The Citizen-Scientist Bands,” 2009. Colored pencil on paper, 30 x 30 inches. Image courtesy of D’Amelio Terras Gallery, New York. Collection of Marjorie and Michael Levine.

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