Retracing the grooves
Vinyl LPs and fortune cookies provide inspiration for open-entry group show
Music can be both a unifying and an alienating force when shared with others, especially when it comes to those older, familiar tunes that were once spun on vinyl records. We might, for instance, jubilantly sing along as a group to a collective-favorite song, or stew in angry silence as one person chooses a play list we loathe as we ride out the irritation.
MANAS Artspace’s newest participatory art show, LP Cookie! Camp Mystery Mixer, has one asking questions about not only what those old records can still do, but perhaps also what they can now be newly made to do.
As with other recent open-entry shows produced by the gallery, the makers of the artwork are those who opted to take up a theme and collection of materials provided by the gallery, responding in kind with their own interpretations of each. For this outing, participants were offered a choice of one LP from a stack of vintage vinyl plus one fortune cookie, and were charged with using these as launching points for their own production. The results range from the direct, literal use of smashed records to broader considerations of the lapsed past and the prophesied future, and even harmonious moments between the two.
A first work encountered at the exhibition’s opening was Austin English’s “There’s A Lot to Be Said For A Broken Record,” an expressionistic painting of a female figure with hair of flames and an eye blotted out with the shape of a heart. Beneath the other eye, streaming a rush of blue and black tears, is a fortune embossed over her pale cheek that reads: “Avoid focusing on the negative aspects of the past.” Her anguished face suggests a figure enmeshed in trauma, one who perhaps will not be comforted by the flat counsel of the fortune. But the title is contradictory, suggesting that within the broken remnants of the past, or maybe the tidy, oft-repeated phrases of advice heard in aphorisms and platitudes, there might yet be something of encouragement or help.
Richard Macias’ sculptural work “Getting Older” speaks to the outdated material of the Kenny Rogers record it incorporates as well as possibly the creeping, uncomfortable feeling of being able to relate to and recognize material increasingly removed from the present. Spending time with many of these pieces, one gets the sense that there is a permeating sadness about the obliteration of the use of vinyl, but a reluctance as well to resign to the loss. The gallery’s and artists’ very project is partially an attempt to rescue the record, in practice making us spend time with the unexpected poetry of moments like the phrasing of Kenny Rogers’ record’s title, “Tell it All, Brother,” a sweet, assuring call for commiserating and a promise of a sympathetic listening ear from the songwriter, and now, the artwork.
During the opening reception last Friday night (May 17), creaky crooner songs filled the large, open room of the gallery, spun from the vinyl grooves by the creators of the exhibition. It crafted a ghostly experience when combined with the visuals of the material of popular melodies nearly forgotten. It worked especially well with Ellen Akimoto’s beautiful surrealistic drawing “Future Mirage in the Desert,” which proposes that perhaps the future is only as substantial as a dream. Examining it in concert with the ethereal songs of eras past made me wonder how concrete and solid any era is, each seemingly destined for obsolescence. Yet maybe we can also hope for the ideal of—as many of these works have—making what was old new again.