February 16, 2002
Featuring: Michael Brewster
Opening Reception: 16 February 2002 5 – 7 pm.
Michael Brewster has been making sound sculptures for three decades. His use of sound as a medium enables him to provide audiences with fresh awareness of their own participation and engagement with a work of art that exists in the space around them.
For Brewster, sound is a four dimensional medium. His work reminds us that sound is physical and has a measurable volume, width and length, as well as tempo. Sound also exists as physical energy; waves that move through space and respond to space in particular ways, bouncing off the walls and mixing with its own reflections. In discussing the properties of sound, Brewster explains that “each portion of the spectrum exhibits unique qualities and behaviors. Low frequency sounds, for instance, which have long wavelengths, are omnidirectional and volumetric. High frequency sounds have short wave lengths and are monodirectional and linear.” Brewster cleverly uses this subtle understanding of the material to create installations that heighten our awareness of our physicality and our surroundings.
For his project at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, initiated and sponsored by the Fellows of Contemporary Art, Brewster constructed a sound chamber in which he presented five different “acoustic sculptures” which last four to six minutes each, operated from a touch screen. The room was surrounded on the outside by a “sonic drawing” made by intermittent sound signals coming from six sounders positioned around the gallery. Brewster challenges the viewer to shift from the expected “stand and look” behavior to an exploratory “move and listen” approach; slowly walking our ears, instead of moving our eyes, through the acoustically produced exhibit.
Brewster has said, “I work with sound’s spatial effects to promote the appreciation of sculptural sensations of space instead of objects. My two series, the Sonic Drawings and the Acoustic Sculptures, use sound to generate expanded experiences of drawing and sculpture.” He describes the sonic drawings as the intertwining of unpredictable “events” which are produced by the soundings of separate, individual clicking or whistling sources. The sounds draw our attention around the room as they toy with our expectations and our sense of timing. Acoustic sculpture is a mix of electronic tones emitted into a bare room by a single loudspeaker. The sounds, echoing through each other, create zones of differing loudnesses and tonal content.
Along with artists involved in the Light and Space Movement in California in the 1960s, Brewster became interested in exploring the boundaries of phenomenological experience as a means of providing the viewer with a cognitive awareness of how the process of our perceptions conditions our imaginations and our understandings of an art work. Using sound to create a perceptual field as opposed to an object also established a kind of secondary, imaginary visual experience as well as the primary aural one. Instead of walking around a sculptural object, the experience of Brewster’s work requires us to move through the sound as a sculptural material, one that allows us to explore it from within. His work establishes a unique dynamic between viewer and artwork.
Michael Brewster is Professor of Art at Claremont Graduate University where he has taught since 1973. He has exhibited throughout the United States and Europe as well as in Canada and Australia. Brewster has received numerous grants and awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship (1988).
The exhibition and catalogue were initiated and sponsored by the Fellows of Contemporary Art. Matching funds were provided by Irene and Jerry Barr, Catherine B. Chester, Homeira and Arnold Goldstein, Phyllis and John Kleinberg, Peggy and Bernard Lewak, Ann and Bob Myers, Cathie and David Partridge, Peggy Phelps and Nelson Leonard, Joan B. Rehnborg, Laurie Smits Staude, and Donna Vaccarino, AIA.