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Art and music collide in MOCA's summer exhibition

April 7, 2017 // by Denise M. Reagan

Vacuum cleaners, each outfitted with a tuner, harmonica, and lightbulb, turn on and off at intervals, sucking air into the harmonicas and producing an unpredictable, serendipitous orchestration.

A disco ball hangs in a dim gallery while videos of performers dance in the background, their heads seemingly replaced by the glowing orb.

Legendary emcees are seamlessly mixed into a cohesive video synchronized to a classical masterpiece that appears to be conducted by the rappers portrayed.

Rashaad Newsome The Conductor2 885 crop
© Rashaad Newsome, The Conductor (detail)2008. Video installation, dimensions variable. Courtesy Rashaad Newsome Studio, New York.

Art and music collide at the intersection of experimentation and possibility in Synthesize: Art + Music, an original exhibition by the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, a cultural institute of the University of North Florida. The exhibition opens June 3 and continues through September 3.

Synthesize presents a wide array of visually and aurally dynamic pieces that underscore how artists remix, compose, and bring together the visual and sonic in unpredictable ways. Featuring works by Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, James Clar, Farrah Karapetian, Rashaad Newsome, Lyle Owerko, Robin Rhode, and Julianne Swartz, each piece demonstrates an alliance between art and music since 2000. Video, sculpture, photography, and installation art blur the lines between the two disciplines and suggest that music and art are in fact equal partners, even though each one jockeys for attention and at times steals the limelight.

“MOCA Jacksonville strives to be a thought leader in contemporary artistic dialogues, and Synthesize: Art + Music reflects this ethos, bringing together internationally respected artists and presenting their work for the first time to the Jacksonville community,” said MOCA Director Caitlín Doherty.

Farrah Karapetian Got to the Mystic 885 full
© Farrah Karapetian, Got to the Mystic, 2014. Unique chromogenic photogram from constructed negative, 97 x 82 inches. Courtesy Von Lintel Gallery, Los Angeles.

Pushing the boundaries of each sphere, the works in Synthesize also highlight the numerous ways the visual arts can make music and vice versa. The Conductor, by Newsome, for example, combines clips culled from rap music videos with selections from composer Carl Orff's classical masterpiece Carmina Burana, a piece of music that has itself been widely sampled in pop culture. The music video footage has been edited to isolate and remix shots of the rap artists' hand gestures so they appear to be conducting Orff's orchestra, a juxtaposition that allows Newsome to playfully break down boundaries between seemingly opposed cultural form.

During both the patrons' and members' previews, and with The Conductor as a backdrop, rapper Controverse will perform a rap to reunite the imagery with its original form of music. The performance completes the piece and further establishes the place of hip-hop culture and blackness within a Museum setting.

“It's a really exciting moment to examine cross-disciplinary approaches to art-making,” said Curator Jaime DeSimone. “I hope viewers discover how art and music are equal partners within this larger context.”

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog with an essay by DeSimone, available in the MOCA Shop for purchase.

Throughout the exhibition, the remix attitude takes center stage as it incorporates numerous visual and musical references and challenges our understanding of what each medium can be. Events include lectures by Dr. Nikki Lane on Grammy award-winning rapper Missy Elliot and featured photographer Lyle Owerko. Aligning with the exhibition's concept, MOCA Jacksonville's Book Club has selected Hamilton: The Revolution.

Celeste Boursier Mougenot harmonichaos 2.1 885 crop
© CELESTE BOURSIER-MOUGENOT, harmonichaos 2.1, 2006. 13 vacuum cleaners, each outfitted with one tuner, one harmonica and one lightbulb, overall dimensions variable. Installation view at Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. Image courtesy of the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery.

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot

French sound artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot (French, b. 1961) produces music in surprising and unexpected ways through large-scale acoustic environments. He first began his career as a musician yet began producing sonic installations as early as the 1990s. Boursier-Mougenot extracts the musical potential from diverse objects-live birds, vacuum cleaners, and kitchenware, among others-and explores their musical possibilities within a prescribed system.

James Clar Dance Therapy 1 885 full
© James Clar, Dance Therapy (detail), 2012. Video installation, 22-minutes loop disco ball and projector, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist.

James Clar

Media artist James Clar (American, b. 1979) uses technology as a medium to critique the dis-associative effects of technology itself. In Dance Therapy, he draws from and edits footage of break dancers to create a spatial multisensory mosaic with a disco ball at its epicenter.

Farrah Karapetian In the Wake of Sound In the Break of Sound 885 full
© Farrah Karapetian, In the Wake of Sound, In the Break of Sound, 2014. Steel and glass, dimensions variable. Courtesy Von Lintel Gallery, Los Angeles.

Farrah Karapetian

Los Angeles-based artist Farrah Karapetian (American, b. 1978) investigates questions surrounding photographic representation and reality as it surfaces in her photographs and sculpture. Her large-scale camera-less photographs are produced using constructed negatives, or handmade props, to infuse unexpected texture and volume into the otherwise flat, opaque shadows.

Rashaad Newsome The Conductor1 885
© Rashaad Newsome, The Conductor (detail), 2008. Video installation, dimensions variable. Courtesy Rashaad Newsome Studio, New York.

Rashaad Newsome

Working in video, performance, and collage, Rashaad Newsome (American, b. 1979) remixes seemingly chaotic expressions of street culture into rigorously formal compositions. Drawing from high and low sources, he mashes together American hip-hop culture and the European heraldic tradition as a way to celebrate African-American culture.

Lyle Owerko Boombox 2 885
© Lyle Owerko, Boombox 2, 2010. Archival pigment print, 44 x 65 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Jackson Fine Art.

Lyle Owerko

Lyle Owerko's (Canadian, b. 1968) visual images have found an indelible place in the lexicon of pop culture and journalism. His series The Boombox Project celebrates the quintessential big city accessory perched on shoulders or ornamenting front stoops from the 1970s to the 1980s.

Robin Rhode Untiltled Air Guitar 885 full
© Robin Rhode, Untitled (Air Guitar) (detail), 2005. Digital animation, 7:15 min (projection), dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

Robin Rhode

Coming of age in a newly post-apartheid South Africa, Robin Rhode (South African, b. 1976) was exposed to new forms of creative expression motivated by the spirit of the individual rather than dictated by a political or social agenda. Influenced by hip-hop, film, and popular sports, the Berlin-based multidisciplinary artist creates arrestingly beautiful narratives employing everyday materials, such as charcoal and chalk.

Julianne Swartz Black and Blue Weave 885 full
© Julianne Swartz, Black and Blue Weave, 2013. Wire, speakers, electronics, multi-channel soundtrack, 73 . x 51 x 6 inches. Courtesy of Josee Bienvenu Gallery. Photo by Chris Kendall.

Julianne Swartz

Blending high- and low-tech materials, Julianne Swartz (American, b. 1967) utilizes both existing and self-made technologies to create sculpture, installations, and photographs that prompt viewers to question our culture's relationship to technology. Swartz's pieces also possess matchless audio tracks that communicate barely audible computer-generated voices or softly sung remixed love tunes via PVC tubing or speakers. 

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