A room filled with a new series of distinct wall works, Hypoxia 1-6 (all 2011) can seem overwhelming at first. Each piece is a mess of metal tubing, cables, motors, microphones, amplifiers and compressors that activate expandable balloons covered in brightly colored braided sleeving. But as you walk around the room, moving between one work and the next, the distinctive intricacies of each individual piece draw you in, each one a separate atmosphere responding to your physical presence with subtle noises and gestures. The contrast between the industrial materials and the sounds, like birdcalls and rustling wilderness, evoke an untamed landscape, and blur the line between the opposing forces of the natural and the mechanical.
Montreal artist Jean-Pierre Gauthier is known for his captivating, often charming kinetic sculptures, for which he won Canada’s prestigious Sobey Art Award in 2004. For this solo exhibition at Jack Shainman Gallery, Gauthier has created a synesthetic experience. His laid-bare approach – a part of the experience of these pieces is being able to watch each sound as it is formed – turns the often hidden technology of sound art into an integrated experience, in which the action of the visual plane disperses seamlessly into the soundscape it generates.
There is something decidedly primal and heaving about these sculptures, especially in the movements and forms of the inflatable pieces, which lend the room a faintly sexual charge. Despite the obviously methodical and painstaking construction of each work, they retain a sense of the unrehearsed and spontaneous – with the freedoms and the perils of that state.
In the adjacent gallery, Thorax, 2010, integrates a number of similar works into a single installation, each element connected and controlled by a central computer dangling precariously like the mothership in the centre of the room. The effect of this piece is more menacing, with sound building slowly to a cacophonous climax. It is a portentous, almost threatening installation, but it’s also seductive, like watching a storm come in. Thorax might benefit from a more isolated situation – as sound bleeds between these two rooms and becomes at times impossible to untangle.
Gauthier’s new work is decidedly more ominous and less whimsical than some of the artist’s earlier pieces, like the drawing machine, Le Son de Choses, 2004, that is on view downstairs.
The exception is Sweeping Spirals, 2008-2011, which acts as a Fantasia-like gateway between the street and the central gallery spaces. Here, two broom heads dance on extended, multi-sectioned, dislocated red handles. As the brooms dance around the space, they ineffectually shift and poke at the debris on the floor beneath them – apparently left over from the actual installation – snipped ends of industrial plastic ties; colored thread; drywall dust.
The choreographed movements are beautiful, even mesmerizing; the rhythms of contemporary dancers reenacted as puppetry. Like all of the new work here, though, they have moods that keep you guessing – changing registers fluidly from acute frenzy to crouching anticipation.