Surround Echo, Surround Promise
By Tyler Matthew Oyer
photo: Benjamin Sutton
Gazing into the glass façade as I entered the New Museum to peruse the third edition of its Triennial exhibition, I was unaware I had already experienced an artwork from the sidewalk. I entered the museum, checked my bag, purchased entry, and quickly devoted attention at the flat screen television parked in the center of the lobby where a video of comedian/artist Casey Jane Ellison chatting with my beloved Kembra Pfahler was looping. The artwork I was oblivious to but was completely encompassed by was the contribution of artist/DJ/musician Ashland Mines. Mines, whose musical persona is Total Freedom, had tinted the fluorescent bulbs overhead to a pale pink, creating a subtle visual shift, washing the café, lobby and entry with a rosy hue. An audio track casually played throughout the spaces… the wall text tells me it’s a “club track” adaptation of Terry Riley’s “dark, droning” 1968 composition "Ecstasy". Mines’ light and sound environment is titled promise echo (2015).
In stairway A, Mines constructs another light and sound environment entitled disembodied promise (2015). This time using acid green light and a fourteen-channel soundtrack, Mines transforms the stairwell into a shaft of light and sound that when photographed, harkens the appearance of night vision technology seen on television shows, video games, and of course, special operations war documentation. This version of “Ecstasy” seems more aggressive, disorienting, and louder than the lobby iteration. The result is an exhilarating, dizzying descent/ascent throughout the gallery installations. disembodied promise becomes the connective tissue between the varying, diverse statements this show makes and attempts to make about identities, technologies, and arts’ varying social roles. The curators picked the right artist for such a task. These works place the viewer, rather than an object or image, at the center of the experience. And in a slightly sinister manner: an action that winks toward the show’s title Surround Audience. Co-curators Lauren Cornell and Ryan Trecartin state:
“Surround Audience” explores the effects of an increasingly connected world both on our sense of self and identity as well as on art’s form and larger social role. The exhibition looks at our immediate present, a time when culture has become more porous and encompassing and new considerations about art’s role and potential are surfacing. Artists are responding to these evolving conditions in a number of ways, from calculated appropriations to critical interrogations to surreal or poetic statements.
Mines utilizes meticulously engineered abstraction in the forms of light, space, architecture and sound to overwhelm the individual and collective bodies in a way that is explicitly technological. This affect brings to mind highly debated sociopolitical references: the NSA crisis, the public broadcast of bin Laden’s supposed murder, civilian cell phone videos of police brutality… moments that psycho-socially compile into a discouraging, spiraling rabbit hole of the patriarchal, omnipotent, global capitalist prison industrial hyper police(ing) state of the United States of America.
Most of us look for ways out, for some hope (does that term resound in a post-Obama-campaign consciousness?), a release perhaps…
Located in the basement bathrooms is Mines third and final piece. Here he appropriates the diary of Sandra Mcelroy, known as “witness 40” who served on the Grand Jury for the Michael Brown case. Mcelroy, who eventually admitted that she based her testimony on accounts she had read in news media, becomes fodder for an audio track entitled successful shit (2015). While promise echo and disembodied echo traverse decades referentially, successful shit dips back only a few months to the disturbing, heinous events and irresponsible actions in Ferguson, illuminating the regressive and continuously reenacted horrors of structural American social injustices. That’s some shit.
Mines is used to large, unconventional, and challenging spaces. I’ve have the pleasure of dancing to his DJ sets in a few cities over the past five years as his talents with sound manipulation have placed him amongst the most wanted DJ’s in the world. From Mustache Monday to 11:11 to Fade to Mind warehouse parties to Hood By Air fashion shows and otherwise stuffy events at Art Basel Miami Beach and PS1, Mines consistently produces an environment that encourages people to feel good, engage their bodies, suspend reality, and escape the meshes of everyday living. The wall text quotes Mines: “I make environments for humans”. Within the oppressive, supremacist architecture of the New Museum, filled with autonomous art objects performing the conventions of an international survey triennal, Mines’ works calls attention to the limits of the object, the institution, and art in general by emphasizing human interaction with space itself.
This is why I find his installations to be amongst the most intriguing and active works presented in Surround Audience. Unlike the dark clubs and warehouses Total Freedom typically works within, here the artist Ashland Mines has kept the lights on. His titles hint toward a futurity that is promised. What is a disembodied promise? How is/can it be manifested? And where does this echo come from? Is it the collective, dismantling refrain Franco Bifo Berardi hints at in The Uprising, On Poetry and Finance? While the spaces Mines presents are indeed metaphysical experiences at the New Museum, somehow I believe his intentions look toward places yet to be reached, harkening the horizon of utopias. These rooms of vibration, harmonies and light offer rich sensorial temporalities to meditate on and imagine futurities where thumping bass cracks the foundations of the institutions of oppression and the pink and green light provide optical baptisms, resetting how we see and subsequently approach rebuilding our world.
TYLER MATTHEW OYER founded tir journal in 2015. He is an artist, performer, writer and organizer based in Los Angeles. His work has been presented at MoMA PS1, REDCAT, dOCUMENTA (13), Hammer Museum, Kunstnernes Hus Oslo, Art Basel Miami Beach, Bergen Kunstall, Rogaland Kunstsenter, The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, High Desert Test Sites, Highways Performance Space and the Orange County Museum of Art. He received an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts in 2012.