Nihilo-Ex-Datum (Prelude)

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On June 26th 2019, the studios at Arts Letters and Numbers in Averill Park, New York were transformed into an immersive, interactive exhibition space featuring installations, film, sculptures, and performance pieces conceived during the month long residency. In keeping with the multidisciplinary tradition of the program, a series of textual artworks were printed on cards and scattered throughout the studio space. A musical suite for the exhibition was arranged, composed, recorded, and performed by Justin-Daashuur Hopkins and Ryan York; throughout the course of the evening, the suite was looped three times with each subsequent repetition increasing in volume.

Upon entering, guests encountered the first of several site-specific installations titled “Temple no. 1” as well as the first card of the exhibition. In an adjacent dimly-lit room, a performer sat before a stacked pile of torn newsprint paper repeatedly drafting a passage from chapter 47 of the Tao Te Ching in hand-mixed charcoal paint while Alvin Lucier’s 1969 composition “I am sitting in a room” looped in the background. When a successful draft of the passage was completed or an error was committed, the paper scrap was tossed into the air; the performer’s drafting pace quickened as the level of distortion in Lucier’s recording increased as did the performer’s level of aggravation during the disposal of the scraps; over the course of the evening, six performance cycles were completed. Two more cards could be found above and below the door frame to the performance room.

Moving into the main room, an untitled installation composed of black twist tie sculptures was suspended above several plinths; compositional elements of the installation referenced a series of 1996 bronze works created by Bruce Nauman. Each individual sculpture was created without the use of adhesive material, relying instead on bonds produced by various techniques including weaving, twisting, and bending; lighting was fixed to cast shadow projections onto the posterior wall. Four more text cards were placed along several structures leading to the alcove which housed the next site-specific installation titled “Jacob’s Ladder” as well as three monochromatic 山水 studies each accompanied by a text card; the same charcoal paint used in the performance was incorporated in each both the installation piece and the smaller studies. A geometrically positioned curtain allowed natural light to filter through into the alcove; as the evening progressed, the strength and quantity of light gradually diminished lending a temporal element to the otherwise static contents of the room.

The main room also featured “Temple no. 2”, the final site-specific installation comprised of painted wooden beams—again using charcoal paint from the performance room—and palettes sourced from within the studio complex and local environs. Lighting was similarly arranged to create a dramatic posterior cast-shadow projection filling an entire corner of the central space; within the umbra, three more cards could be found. Within the central installation of studio chairs, a stop-motion film titled “Deus-Ex-Tignum” projected from a cached LCD projector on a repeating loop; three more cards were placed inside the installation. All of the structural installations featured in the film each employed the same set of beams relying entirely on their inherent capacities for balance and counter-balance, a characteristic shared by all of the installations within the exhibition. Footage for the film was shot in an abandoned barn located in Roudouallec, a small commune in the Morbihan department of Brittany in north-western France. Beneath the projection, a single card was placed on a bench set between two mixed media pieces (“Flower with Chemical Petals no. 1 and no. 2”) composed of material elements found in the performance room.

Exhibition Entrance

Exhibition Entrance

Performance Room (aftermath)

Performance Room (aftermath)

Installations in Main Room

Installations in Main Room

Sculpture Installation and Alcove Entrance

Sculpture Installation and Alcove Entrance

Gallery photos courtesy of Jennifer Park and Arts Letters and Numbers

A short clip from Deus-Ex-Tignum scored with an excerpt from a musical suite by Justin Daashuur-Hopkins and Ryan York