Judicious Symmetries: Audra Wolowiec at Visitor Center in Newburgh Through November 26 | Chronogram Magazine

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Judicious Symmetries

Audra Wolowiec at Visitor Center in Newburgh Through November 26

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Last Updated: 11/01/2021 12:10 pm
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Concrete Sound, cast concrete with pigment, 2020
  • Concrete Sound, cast concrete with pigment, 2020

Audra Wolowiec has given herself an impossible task: to describe sound in visual terms. All of her work attempts to make the invisible visible. Her show “Sound Mirror” will be at the Visitor Center gallery in Newburgh until November 26.

Wolowiec’s “waveform” images are loosely based on photographs taken by Berenice Abbott for science textbooks from 1958 to 1960, using a ripple tank to demonstrate principles of waves: refraction, reflection, interference, etc. (Though Abbott is a master of modernist photography, these innovative experiments are little known.) Wolowiec makes her own paper and reproduces wave patterns by creating images with paper pulp. “It’s almost like painting with paper,” she explains. All the “waveform” works are black and white, but some of the paper is made with abaca, a species of banana plant that gives a warmer, slightly yellower tint.

The paper is still aqueous while she’s working, so it’s difficult to perfectly control the results: The lines wobble and sometimes merge. These chance elements are part of the artist’s intention; the paper is “talking back” to Wolowiec. As she attempts to depict waves, other waves are interfering.

Two “waveform” pieces are displayed together, so they mirror one another. Together they suggest the spinning blades of an electric fan, or a spider web, or an explosion. You can see that the paper is handmade by examining the ragged edges. Four of the larger paper works (40” x 30”) are in vertical glass cases so that both sides are visible. Wolowiec’s training is in sculpture, so even her paper works are conceived in three dimensions.

Some of the “waveforms” are white on white. These pieces almost disappear when viewed from a distance—they emit a ghostly glow.

Also in the show are sculptures entitled “concrete sound.” Their prong-like shapes are taken from insulation in anechoic chambers, rooms designed to be totally silent. The avant-garde composer John Cage walked into such a chamber in 1951 and heard two sounds: one high, one low. “What are those sounds?” he asked the technician afterwards. He was told that the low tone was the circulation of his blood, the high one his nervous system functioning. In other words, the body itself is a musical instrument. This story is one inspiration of Wolowiec’s sound-based sculptures.

After graduating from the University of Michigan, she worked at Pewabic Pottery, a ceramic studio in Detroit founded in 1903 as part of the Arts and Crafts movement. There she learned how to cast and fire clay tiles, a technique she has adapted to her work with concrete. The pieces in Concrete Sound were formed by pouring liquid concrete, mixed with black pigment, into rubber molds. No kiln was required. The pieces are arranged in repetitive patterns; Wolowiec has a knack for judicious symmetries.

For some reason, these sculptures remind me of chocolate—perhaps the sheen of their surfaces. I have never seen concrete so delicate. Though it is the most ubiquitous manmade product in the world, concrete has been largely overlooked by artists.

“Sound Mirror” is the first show at the Visitor Center gallery, the handsome ground floor of a dignified 1880 red brick building in Newburgh. Eva Zanardi, the gallery director, worked for two years at the GR Gallery in Manhattan, which specialized in op art. She also runs an art consulting business. Zanardi and her husband moved to Newburgh last October. They live on the top floor of the building; his design studio is on the second floor.

"Sound Mirror" will be on display at Visitor Center in Newburgh Through November 26.

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