Anthony Hawley on “Visual Record: The Materiality of Sound in Print”

As one walked into this inaugural exhibition at the New York Print Center’s new location on West Twenty-Fourth Street in Manhattan, one heard ambient murmurs ricocheting throughout the gallery. To the east one picked up something like the echoes of faint brushing sounds interjected with exhalations, while to the north one felt the muted vibrations of what could have been clay or wooden pipes. These hushed sonorities made it seem as though one was standing inside a vast cavern, deep underground. The effect made perfect sense for “Visual Record: The Materiality of Sound in Print,” a show built around the subtleties of aural and physical sensation.

Keenly organized by Elleree Erdos, the presentation featured works by fifteen artists employing an array of traditional printing methods, including etching, drypoint, screen printing, and photolithography. But it also offered up a range of more eccentric approaches to making prints, utilizing a host of unconventional materials and techniques, such as cast rubber and concrete, analog music-box technology, and printed electronic circuits.

At the start of the show was Audra Wolowiec’s voiceprint (we the people), 2021, a spectographic woodblock print with laser-cut commas “recording” an oral reading of the US Constitution’s preamble. This object was symbiotically juxtaposed with AIR, 2020, a sound installation for which Wolowiec invited yoga and Lamaze breath practitioners to interpret the “score” of voiceprint; their contributions were broadcast across five small speakers dangling from the ceiling. What the artist created here was a kind of filamentary interconnectedness between the material and the evanescent, capturing the invisible vibrations that bind all things.

Nearby hung Where R=Ryoanji: R2/1, 1983, a quartet of drypoint pieces by John Cage. In this work, the artist utilized ratios proportional to the titular Zen rock garden combined with tracings of individual stones to craft a luminous, abstract text. Annesas Appel’s Metamorphosis Music Notation, 2015, brought together fifty multicolored strips of piezo-printed paper, which took up nearly the entire length of a wall. Next to this arrangement sat a hand-cranked music box on a wooden block shelf. Using a homemade computer system, Appel translated numbers from non-Western languages into colors and notes that were then turned into tiny holes puncturing the paper strips, which could be played by the music box. The audio-phonetic grammar produced by the work acted as a form of reoriented, reconfigured Esperanto.

Elsewhere were artist and musician Jason Moran’s Choruses in unison, 2020, and Note Count, 2021. These abstract drawings are mediations on collective loss and blues music and function as surrogate objects for performances that were canceled during the Covid-19 pandemic. To create them, Moran placed pigmented Japanese gampi paper atop piano keys and played, producing eerie, shadowy compositions in different shades of cobalt and black. Jess Rowland’s highly seductive Sound Tapestries, 2022, features a selection of thin printed circuits that were suspended from the ceiling. Made from conductive metals that hold audio signals, the objects emit a spectral tapestry of frequencies (which I originally thought were created by pipes). The faint soundscape had the timbre of some undecipherable alien bulletin crafted from the detritus of moribund tech, such as old telephones and busy signals.

Glenn Ligon’s three-color screen print Detail, 2014, was inspired by composer Steve Reich’s tape piece Come Out, 1966, which utilizes the recorded testimony of Daniel Hamm, one of the six Black teens from Harlem who were wrongly accused of murder and beaten by police in 1964. Via a scannable QR code, I listened to Reich’s unnervingly layered work while gazing into Ligon’s mesh of harrowing text. These visual and aural documents of racial violence were perhaps the most haunting parts of the show, marking the exhibition with traces akin to scars.

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