"MURMURATIONS" Sets the Tone at Lawndale Art Center

Categories: Visual Arts

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Photos by Altamese Osborne
Take a pamphlet.
Ascending from the bottom of Lawndale Art Center's first floor stairs are five small speakers. To the left of these speakers are five lights, illuminating each. Start climbing the stairs, and a congregation of sounds begins. First, clapping. Then, cheering. By the time you reach the top, a chorus of voices has surrounded you. It's hard to distinguish which sound comes out of which speaker; their close proximity allows the noise of one to melt into the other, a sum of strings that together, create a whole symphonic sound.

Taking the elevator back down won't save you. It's really crowded in there, you think as the doors slide open. -- only, it's not, you realize as you step in and the doors close behind you. That congregation of voices you're hearing are coming out of another speaker, this one attached to a corner. You are all alone.

Don't bother looking for help on the third floor, either. You are surrounded by this sound, even on the gallery's highest level, where speakers await your movement once more.

In hindsight, you should've seen this coming. When you walked into Lawndale earlier, you passed by a sign and a name -- and a sound. Returning to it now, you hear something soothing, a noise so subtle you initially overlooked: waves at the beach. A family getting out of a car. A child playing. Next to the speaker that emits this murmur is a sign: "MURMURATIONS," a new sound installation by Lina Dib.

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That's it. No pictures, no sculpture, no installation. There is no more to "MURMURATIONS" than a set of speakers strewn throughout Lawndale. They're not even very big; instead, they look like something one could easily procure from Best Buy or some other franchise technology retailer. The wires that connect the speakers to their electrical power source are exposed and not very attractive to look at. The lights, if you look directly into them, are garish and blinding. And yet it is this humble setup that sets the mood for the entire gallery.

The entrance and elevator installations play on a four- and two-minute loop, respectively, while the stairwell and third floor window's installations are triggered by the passing of your body. Therefore, you, walking in front of each speaker's motion sensor, become complicit in the exhibition, an accidental performance artist whose own movement propels this exhibition -- and the rest in Lawndale -- forward.

The speakers' universal locations also affect the other exhibitions showing concurrently at Lawndale: "Fantastic Habitat" by Susi Brister, "Now, What Was There" by Cory Reeder and "Room Divider" by Susannah Mira. Whatever exhibition you choose to view, a sound will be playing, determining your mood as you observe. The same or another sound will still be playing as you walk into or out of an exhibition, solidifying calming or congratulatory feelings about the previous, and pre-determining calm or congratulatory feelings about the next. Because of this, "MURMURATIONS" is the most powerful exhibition at Lawndale.

"MURMURATIONS" will be on view until September 28. Visit the Lawndale Art Center website for more information.

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Lawndale Art Center

4912 Main St., Houston, TX

Category: General

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