Have you listened to this doorknob today?

Have you listened to this doorknob today?
Danielle Georgiou

“Sound is a part of all that exists.” This claim from Shannon Novak resonates in his body of work, and specifically for this exhibition, “Tonnetz.”

In musical turning and harmony, Tonnetz (German for “tone-network”) is a conceptual lattice diagram representing tonal space, or the relationships between musical pitches. Novak takes this idea and places it in the hands of the people of the gallery. How, you might ask? Well, by encouraging the use of mobile devices to reveal a synesthetic experience. Still confused?

To begin, you need to know a little more about Mr. Shannon Novak. He is a synesthete – one who can look at objects and experience them as a series of specific sounds, colors, and shapes. Everything to him has a “sound quality” and this exhibition gives the viewer the ability to experience Novak’s synesthesia. Using a specific form of technology – Augmented Reality (AR) – the audience can hold up their mobile devices to an object, such as a water fountain, a set of stairs, or a chair, revealing a series of sounds, colors, and shapes. Taking the “art” off the traditional white gallery walls, Novak is utilizing a movement in contemporary art focused on the promotion of public art, a movement in its heyday at present. “Tonnetz” is activating spaces in the gallery that have not been activated before by an artist.

And what it does more than anything else, is beg the question that contemporary art has been struggling to address for decades: “What is art?” It does not answer it, for there can never, and will never, be a direct answer to this question (we would be kidding ourselves if we thought there ever was to be one), but it does add to the conversation. In the vein of René Magritte and his painting, La trahison des images (The Treachery of Images), is that water fountain, that set of stairs, that chair, that table really what it appears to be? Or is it just a representation? Je ne sais pas.

Magritte’s work frequently displayed a collection of ordinary objects in an unusual context, giving new meanings to familiar things. Novak is doing something similar, by giving commonplace objects color and sound, something we do not see or hear with our everyday senses. The object is not what it was originaly intended to be (like Magritte’s pipe), it is now an “image” of that object. While, yes, the objects Novak highlights are clearly symbols, representations, and the understanding of them as such is predicated on and by you, the audience, having a certain set of senses such as hearing and sight, it is really just a play of reality and illusion.

It is poetic imagery trying to find its place in a world that is ephemeral. What we see on the screen of our mobile device is not real. When we look back and forth between the object and the screen, the result is a projected illusion of what we could possibly be seeing and hearing. It is an abstraction, but perhaps more real than reality itself.

Danielle Georgiou is a video performance artist from Dallas, Texas. She is a current resident at CentralTrak, the University of Texas at Dallas Artists Residency Program, and director of the dance departments at both Eastfield College and the University of Texas at Arlington.

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  1. By 03/23/13 – 05/11/13 | The MAC March 18, 2013 at 2:51 am

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