Breaking art

1078 Gallery exhibit seeks light through the cracks

“Broken Open: Ghost Cup,” by Evelyn Ficarra.

“Broken Open: Ghost Cup,” by Evelyn Ficarra.

Photo by Jason Cassidy

Broken Open: Sound/Word/Object shows through Feb. 10. Reception: Saturday, Jan. 26, 6-8 p.m.
1078 Gallery
1710 Park Ave.

On the gray, rainy afternoon of the opening (Jan. 17) of 1078 Gallery’s new Broken Open: Sound/Word/Object exhibit, the space looked quiet and empty from the outside.

As soon as I crossed the threshold, however, I was greeted by a loud “clang” of invisible piano wires being struck. The discordant sound was surprising and thrilling, and it was also a reminder that things aren’t always what they seem—which, conveniently, is partly what the three-person show is about.

In the artist statement, it’s explained that, for the exhibit, the three artists—ceramicist Cameron Crawford, poet Elise Ficarra, and composer/sound artist Evelyn Ficarra—“demonstrate the results of breaking and opening,” in the process “revealing that the act of breaking can create an opening to a new form or meaning.” And through the expression of multiple mediums—poetry, sound art, video, sculpture and ceramics—they’ve succeeded in bringing those revelations to light.

Visually, the show’s layout is stark. Crawford’s large ceramic plates are lined up in a row along the long back wall; two small black speakers sit in opposite corners of the room; and tucked onto the small stage are Evelyn’s four multimedia pieces, one in each corner. But the space nonetheless feels busy, as a variety of overlapping sounds—female voices; random piano-string vibrations; and assorted clicking, scraping and cracking—fills the room and draws the listener to its various sources to make sense of each sonic element.

Approaching either of the two speakers, the sound layer featuring muffled female whispers gradually clears up to reveal Elise’s hushed voice reciting her “Vessel” poem. The effect is one of eavesdropping on snippets of private thoughts: “Who was I hiding from when I was hiding from you?” “Trouble breathing, trouble breathing …” “History is a nightmare.”

There’s a complementary broadside featuring a portion of the poem, and its opening line—“It is told they came wielding axes and split the vessels”—is a fitting introduction to her sister Evelyn’s sculptures, each of which features items—namely teacups and a piano—that have been broken. Extracted piano keys are discarded in piles, and there are broken teacups everywhere—in a kettle, falling from wires into a ceramic bowl; and in a video being tossed onto piano strings.

The clicking, tinkling sounds of the teacups rolling and breaking emanate from the actual items themselves. In “Broken Open: Ghost Cup,” an ill-fated teaset is wired to both play back audio of its demise as well as randomly physically vibrate the teacups in a wooden tray that rests on two chairs.

The most individually engaging piece on the stage is “Broken Open: Piano Bench Variations.” A loop of videos is projected onto an open piano bench, and in addition to the image and sounds of teacups hitting the strings, there are scenes of rocks and teacups being tossed and dragged around inside a busted piano.

For his part of the show, Crawford hasn’t physically broken anything. What the Chico State ceramics instructor has cracked open via the scenes etched into his large plates is the truth (environmental crises, human rights issues, etc.) beneath the shiny surface of modern society. The layout on the plates is a central image in the middle circle, with additional layers to the story played out in scenes around the rim.

Many of Crawford’s pieces feature trains, especially oil tank cars, as on “Three Estates: No Evil,” which has three subway riders in the center looking at, listening to and speaking into cellphones and not seeing, hearing or speaking of the evils around the edges—oil cars on the other tracks, smokestacks spewing pollution, etc.

While studying the narratives playing out on the plates, as one moves farther away from the bulk of sounds playing out on stage, the room fills back up with a mix of background noises. It’s both an appropriately busy soundtrack to Crawford’s little industrial worlds, and a return to the unbroken surface.