Through April 24
by S.E. Smith
Distortion is a prism. A clean tone passed through a distortion pedal explodes into harmonics, and as anybody who has spent some years of their life listening to Sonic Youth would know, these harmonics possess a shamanlike quality. They gloss the material world with an inward glow, one that, like an animal's, is intelligent and aware but difficult to grasp directly. Instead, the wash of noise promotes reverie and a kind of wisdom arrived at by associative thinking.
Barry Stone’s Hum produces in the viewer the meditative quality of taking in a heavy dose of amp-shredding fuzz. Its nine pieces (ten including “Not for Teacher,” Stone’s dirgelike refashioning of Van Halen's “Hot for Teacher” that plays in the background) demonstrate a skilled and subtle resonance, both in their cultural references and in their relation to each other.
The show’s deliberate arrangement is a large part of Hum’s success. Each piece reverberates formally with those surrounding it, even though the works themselves comprise a wide range of media, including photography (which Stone teaches at Texas State University), collage and sumi ink. Hum opens with a triptych of two black-and-white photographs coupled with a full-color pint, on the right starting with a picture of a doorless Camaro, its back seat stuffed with blankets. The image is compelling even without an explicit narrative. Sharp, nearly affectless, full of material but absent of rhetoric-- it gives little away because it has little to give away.
Following Camaro Z28, Spring, TX, Mountain Distortion mirrors its clean lines but repositions the viewer. The photograph is framed as an oval, hinting at filmic keyhole fade-outs and stylized landscape renderings. Mountain Distortion shares a documentary quality with Camaro Z28, Spring TX, but with an uncanny degree of manipulation. It is a distortion, after all, but it is almost impossible to detect how the image of the mountain has been altered. Viewed together, they create a sense of uncertainty. In their correspondences, the two pieces buzz as if subject to a sympathetic vibration.
Hum often references popular culture and art history directly, with a decided bent toward the ’70s (from Judy Chicago to Bruce Dickinson), but these images appear as components of an interior landscape rather than quotations, or heaven forbid, commentary. Stone’s The Dinner Party, Spring, TX is a photograph of the original exhibition poster for Judy Chicago’s much-debated feminist installation. Photographed at an angle, the framed poster is distorted by glare reflecting a window or door in the room where it hangs, making the image of the triangular table seem to melt away or sublimate. What could be annoyingly clever or intellectually opaque about such treatment of these materials is instead personal and oddly warm. “Warmth” might be a strange quality to note in an exhibition that uses cultural references to investigate personal subjects, but Hum proves that a private image system is not necessarily an exclusive one.
S.E. Smith is the founding editor of OH NO magazine. Her work has appeared in Fence, jubilat and elsewhere.