Art Insider Dec. 17: immersive soundscapes, and obstacles facing black students

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Sigur Rós’ Jónsi creates a multi-sensory soundscape, paintings defy conventions, and an exhibition looks at young black students’ challenges within the education system. 

Jónsi at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery

Hvítblinda (Whiteout) (installation view) (2019). Twelve-channel sound installation; ten speakers, two subwoofers, aluminum, LED lighting, ozone scent, dimension variable, 20 minutes. Image courtesy of the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles. Photo: Jeff McLane.

When we think about creative disciplines, we often consider each field separately: We hear music, look at art, or experience a theatre performance. Yet in Hollywood, Sigur Rós ’ Jónsi has created a sensory musical experience that fully encompasses the body. The main work, Whiteout , is a blank white space with two large benches that you can sit or lay on. Multiple speakers are hidden in the walls, creating a surround sound chorus of Jónsi’s ethereal vocals. At times, the chorus swells, and the benches (embedded with subwoofers) begin to vibrate heavily as LED lights overhead pulse to elicit thunder claps. The exhibition includes two other immersive soundscapes, and each includes a signature scent that the artist created to further place the viewer within his hypnotic artworks. The base scents of ozone, seaweed, and Cadaverine (a fascinating mix of decaying flesh and sperm) lend an uncanny and emotive understanding, which push the auditory much further to induce emotion, memory, and a felt experience. 

Jónsi, Í blóma (In bloom), 2019. Sixteen-channel sound installation; fourteen PA speakers, electrical wiring, two speakers, metal, wood, acrylic paint, chrome butt plugs, cadaverine scent, Sculpture: 116 x 87 x 44 inches; 294.6 x 221 x 111.8 cm, Installation dimensions variable. Duration: 21 minutes. Photo by Jeff Mclane. Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles.

In the last few years, Jónsi has been using a perfume organ to experiment with scents that add an emotional depth to his sound pieces. In a recent interview with The Feed , he said, “I love scents. You can train your nose to be sensitive like singing. It’s a muscle. You slowly learn to smell better … it’s also invisible, and I like that. It’s a thing that moves you, but you kind of can’t explain why.” In his artwork In Bloom , speakers are fitted with butt-plugs and arranged to resemble a foxglove flower, a plant which can be both toxic and medicinal depending on dosage. This duality of life and death is furthered in the scent accompanying this artwork, which is derived from Cadaverine, a smell made from dead animals and sperm. As such, this work elicits a type of raw animalistic desire that is cemented with the inclusion of the perfume.

On view: November 16, 2019–January 9, 2020

April Street at Vielmetter Los Angeles

April Street,
The Lady of Shalott (installation view) (2019). Image courtesy of the artist and Vielmetter Los Angeles. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer.

At Vielmetter in Downtown Los Angeles, April Street has created a cohesive body of sculptural paintings that seem to embrace art history while also being irreverent towards it. Beginning with dimensional canvases made of pantyhose that bulge and pucker to create uncanny indentations across the picture, the paintings embody several painting strategies simultaneously: landscape, still-life, abstraction, and figuration. In places, Street dutifully depicts Flemish Renaissance-style landscapes that give way to melting forms and abstract linework. The primary color in many of these works is a peachy skin tone that, paired with long flowing braids, spills across the canvas like waterfalls to create a type of female self portraiture that seems to stand strong and complex in the face of the over-sexed women that art history is filled with.

On view: November 16, 2019–January 11, 2020

 EJ Hill at Commonwealth and Council

EJ Hill,
Twice As Good Is Too Much (installation view) (2019). Image courtesy of the artist and Commonwealth and Council, Los Angeles. Photo: Ruben Diaz.

EJ Hill, an artist who grew up in black communities here in L.A., has become known for his durational performances in which his body is present in the exhibition. But at Commonwealth and Council, Hill is not present. In his stead, the words “Twice as good is too much” are repeated throughout the show, eliciting a kind of chorus. The phrase is made in neon and embedded onto a chalkboard, then it is scrawled across handwriting practice sheets that cover his paintings. This school theme carries throughout. One painting, Composition #3 (gold star) , is painted black and pocked with spit-balls. In the lower right corner sits a single gold star: the spit-balls here seem to denote the suffering and determination that it takes to rise and achieve excellence as a person of color. The repeated text recalls that black people have to be twice as good to get half as far, yet Hill takes that phrase one step further: Sometimes twice as good is simply too much. Perhaps in his absence from the gallery, Hill is advocating for the importance of rest and self-care for the black community amidst the intense pressures to over-perform. 

On view: November 16, 2019–January 4, 2020