Deborah Aschheim and Lisa Mezzacappa: Earworms


of an Exhibition

by Rachel Bernstein

Published on December 30, 2008, Modified on December 30, 2008

  • Description:

    I could hear the exhibition “Deborah Aschheim and Lisa Mezzacappa: Earworms” before I could see it. Ethereal, haunting, melodic, the music wafted from the dark room into the sunlit entryway of the Pasadena Museum of California Art. The exhibition was installed in The Project Room, a 700-square-foot gallery devoted to installations by early and mid-career California artists. Artists chosen to participate are charged with transforming the space through site-specific installation. And transform it they did.

    Sculptor/installation artist Deborah Aschheim and musician/composer Lisa Mezzacappa collaborated on the project to create a play of light, color, and sound. Entering the darkened space, I had to pause for my eyes to adjust to the light and was at once confronted by three suspended organic creatures lit by LED lights. The intricate sculptures—one white, one aqua, one dark blue, composed of plastic, LEDs, (some video), and sound—produce most of the light in the room. Each sculpture is suspended from the exposed ceiling by a complex arrangement of fishing line. Twisting, turning nodes of plastic and wire create messy, but controlled creatures that emanate a different sound, song, or piece of music. The three sculptures or earworms (Node, Swoon, and Palimpsest) were first created as an experiment to preserve memory for language by transforming words into songs. The artists’ project has since evolved into a meditation on space, sound, and memory.

    Installed in a small industrial room of white walls, concrete floors, and an exposed ceiling, the installation is in stark contrast to the minimalist space. The curvilinear sculptures, muted light, tangled cords, and ethereal music produce the sense of being underwater. A small introductory wall panel at The Project Room entrance provides some context, but the visitor is allowed to make sense of the space themselves. Uninterrupted by stanchions, guards, or additional didactics, a visitor can simply float around and between the sculptures without any barriers. With the open floor plan and intimate space, I spent about fifteen minutes observing the installation, figuring out how it worked, which sound came from which sculpture, and determining the interplay of sound, color, and light. The whimsical, fantasy quality of the installation prompted one visitor to say, “Awww, I want one of those.” Others simply oohed and ahhed as they passed through.

    The installation is a full-bodied sensory experience. The exhibition design allows the visitor to take ownership of the space, to determine their own path, and to create their own meaning. The Project Room and this installation stands in sharp contrast to the traditional, plodding, linear layout of paintings and photographs that comprise the remainder of the Pasadena Museum of California Art’s galleries. It represents the museum’s commitment to innovation, play, and to supporting the practice of contemporary California artists. If only these ideas could push beyond the boundaries of The Project Room and infiltrate the rest of the museum.

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