Opening this summer at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft (HCCC), The Sound of Things, featuring the work of artists Bohyun Yoon and Alyce Santoro, conceptualizes sound and its laden potential within objects and craft materials. The exhibition prompts visitors to ask: What does glass sound like? What does a sonic weaving look like? Yoon and Santoro have mined the history of their respective materials—glass and woven audio tape—to engage with these questions and make tangible what was once unperceivable.
Bohyun Yoon’s work explores sound as well as imperceptible modes of communication and social structures. The artist combines his medium of glass and its properties of vibration resonance, refraction, and transparency with accompanying video performances to make the invisible visible. His Glassorganism series takes the form of Japanese popen. These historical, hand-blown glass noisemakers are characterized by a hollow stem and bowl, connected by a thin glass membrane, which moves between convex and concave states when activated by human breath. After seeing this object depicted in an 18th-century woodblock print by Utamaro Kitagawa, Yoon began conceptualizing the sound it would emit and, after an experimental process of making, ultimately found that the form had potential as an instrument of both sound and light refraction.
The sonic potential of glass objects is expressed and explored in other series by the artist as well. Composed of varying blown-glass tubes with onomatopoeic names, each piece in Yoon’s Glass Tube emits a singular sound when warm air is blown through it, releasing ephemeral tones unique to each object. Harnessing the properties of historic “singing glasses,” Yoon’s Glass Helmets series offers water-filled helmets functioning as both musical instruments and prosthetic devices that amplify communication and social connection. The helmets’ spouts allow multiple wearers to change the water levels, thereby altering the tones produced.
Like glass, weaving has a longstanding connection to the aural realm: drafting a weaving pattern is similar to composing music on a staff, and the process of weaving itself has a rhythmic, tonal quality. Alyce Santoro has amplified this connection in her work, developing a woven textile that is literally imbued with recorded music, in a series of works entitled Sonic Fabric. Weaving audio-cassette tape began experimentally for the artist and musician. After a number of trials and collaborative efforts, she found that weaving the tape on a loom resulted in a glinting textile that was both highly durable and retained its magnetic properties, thereby holding sonic potential. In order to “play” her weavings, Santoro developed tape-head-reader gloves, which emit sounds from the tapes as they are run across the surface. She also developed a visual musical score for the textiles by converting light wavelengths to sound wavelengths. Each band of color on the weaving corresponds with a musical note and can be read visually as well as played with the gloves. She uses audio sourced from diverse cultures and time periods as well as records her own audio in the field, allowing for site-specific weavings.
HCCC Curatorial Fellow Sarah Darro commented, “The works in this exhibition expand the realm of the gallery-viewing context by incorporating conceptual sound. We invite visitors to experience the artwork with all of their senses by listening to Alyce Santoro’s weavings and viewing the sonic potential in Bohyun Yoon’s ethereal glass pieces.”