Have you ever wondered what a sculpture sounds like? Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which the sensory inputs are intertwined. People affected by synesthesia – called synesthetes – may for instance ‘feel colors’, ‘hear smell’, or ‘see sound’.
A unique sculpture, (((Clang))), made by Andrée Valley and exhibited in Madison, Wisconsin, USA, allows everyone to be synesthetes for a moment: looking at (((Clang))) allows you to hear the sculpture…
Andrée has been working for over 30 years with in clay, metal and paper as a studio artist. She finds different mediums invigorating. Her work is unified by a common visual theme of color, abstracted symbols and a sense of playfulness.
In line with her fascination for new mediums, she started a collaboration with computer scientist and composer Nathaniel Barlett, leading to the creation of (((Clang))), an interactive experience meshing the visual, acoustical and spatial. Two 3D cameras allow an observer, as well as the slowly turning sculptures, to interact gesturally, generating a mostly metallic sound. The result is a true interaction of sound and space.
In a recent exhibition in Madison, art and science met at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery. Mind the Brain met Andrée, inspired by (((Clang))) and her collaboration with a computer scientist, asked her for an interview.
How come you were inspired, as a visual artist, to collaborate with a computer scientist?
My work has almost always been about music in an indirect way. It reflects the tempo, cadence, the overlaying of multiple sounds and ‘color’. The complication of listening parallels the complication of viewing one shape through another. For me, music has visual qualities I find exciting to translate into sculpture. I collaborated with composer Nathaniel Bartlett. My interest in his music is his manipulation of sound in a three-dimensional sound-scape done by his work as a computer scientist.
How do you think art relates to science, and vice-versa?
The obvious parallel is creativity. But the creative process is the process of problem solving and working toward a solution or an end result.
For me the visual process involves multiple steps beginning with the idea or thesis. However, different from the scientific theses, mine is ethereal and more of a feeling or fuzzy concept. The thesis is then realized in multiple steps involving practical as well as aesthetic decisions about material, color, size, and execution all relating back to this ethereal thesis that comes from the feeling I want to convey in a piece.
Working as an artist or working as a scientist involves process and the evolution of this process into an object or idea that relates to a beginning thesis. It’s problem solving, exploring boundaries and discovering relationships with an end result in conveying an idea.
Your sculpture makes people ‘hear a sculpture’. When I spoke to you at the exhibition, I told you that your sculpture reminded me of synesthesia (when senses are mixed up, synesthetic people can for instance ‘see sounds’, or ‘feel colors’). You replied ‘maybe I am synesthetic’. Do you often use these ‘mixed up’ senses in other ways in your work too, allowing people to not only hear sculptures, but also for instance ‘feel color’, or ‘see sound’?
Actually, I don’t think I am synesthetic. I read that color and physical feeling is one in people who are synesthetic. But I do think color relays feelings and emotions that are not necessarily related to the object. For me, seeing a work of art in three dimensions that has color affects me physically and emotionally. I am attracted to this combination. This combination gives me pleasure. I love and am excited to look at works by artists that fit into this category.
What is exciting is the ability to make a piece and having the technology to have (in my case) a sculpture play sounds that are determined by the shape, edges or color of the piece. This changes the idea of linearity in a musical composition. It is the randomness of the moving sculpture (within a specific environment of air movement affecting rotational speed) that dictate what and when a sound will occur that is unique to the sculpture. This conceptualizes an audio and visual statement and does this through the creative process of creating music, a visual object and computer programming.
More of Andrées art can be found on http://andreevalley.com/