Something about fall's hasty passage into winter makes fire-watching a top priority — a dose of heat on the face, that anthropocentric gratification that nature is under control and available at my leisure. Hours pass, the light patterns get me subconsciously decoding chaos. My boots appear to be smoking.
Exit nature, enter a gallery. Such captivating moments are also found in the light/water/sound installations of Icelandic artist Finnbogi Pétursson. His second appearance at Wood Street Galleries, and first solo exhibition in the U.S., Second/Second seems to evoke a prehistoric memory, or at least visceral fascination, somewhere deep in our human tissues.
"Infra-Spectra." In this installation, pulsing sound waves vibrate the diaphragms of symmetrically mounted speakers hovering just above a pool of water. Now agitating the water's surface, the invisible sound waves take shape. Light beamed at the water reflects the waves on a white wall; the translucent, monochromatic circles undulate, concentrically widening, converging, appearing and disappearing. The sound swells, as does the subtle rattling in the chest. The noise cycles back into silence; the wall-to-wall pool becomes still, like black glass. Hollow absence becomes equally mesmerizing.
"Tesla Tune." Wood Street's upper gallery has a completely different tone, with an installation that is heard before it's seen. Rounding the corner, you'll find varying sizes of PVC pipe retooled into giant resonators hung from the ceiling to knee-height, some extending the nearly the width of the gallery. What seems to be an endless cacophony of electronic burps is actually, upon closer inspection, a single tone played into each pipe in a repetitive pattern. This simplicity is maximally complicated through oscillating distortions, resulting in something music-like, best described as minimalist Space Disco played on a Casio keyboard set to "didgeridoo." Entranced, now aurally, my mind is one giant cochlea. I feel suspended, like the pipes, trapped in a loop, listening.
Judging by his titles, Pétursson likely takes company with techno/audiophiles — and the Sound Art genre is fully nestled into contemporary art's new-media roll call. (In 2001, he represented Iceland in the Venice Biennale.) Such intended depth is unfortunately lost on this reviewer. (Physics of sound? Here's me snoring.) However, successful works can hold the laziest and least informed of viewers. In Second/Second, you might be captured by a force, pre-technological. Like me, just a human next to a fire.