BLACKFLASH MAGAZINE FEATURE by David LaRiviere
FREQUENCY PAINTING: 12 TONES, GARY JAMES JOYNES/CLINKER
Summer Issue 28.3, 2011
By David LaRiviere
The setup is elaborate. Gary James Joynes undertakes his Banff residency totally committed to the generative situation, assembling his formidable analog modular synthesizer within confines that exude “laboratory.” Of particular interest, the artist carries out an experiment that later forms the basis of his solo exhibition at Latitude 53, Frequency Painting: 12 Tones. Before we get there, it is imperative that we return to the research that feeds the outcome. In his approach to undertaking the Banff residency Joynes was determined to explore a particular line of inquiry first deployed by the German physicist Ernst Chladni (1756–1827), also sometimes referred to as the “father of acoustics.” “Chladni plates,” as they are still known today, involve sending sound wave vibrations through a conductive plate material upon which sand has been more or less evenly distributed. First the vibration would establish a “nodal pattern” in the sand, however this patterning remains dynamic and in a state of flux as the waveform is modulated. The dynamism of the shifting between patterns, and the fantastic vibrations that the sand embodies are compelling, even hypnotic. Joynes sets out to explore what he sees as a wide open field, namely the synaesthetic (visual sound) effects of Chladni plates as expressed through modes of sound composition. Underneath the steel plate “several hand-built wave-driver speaker instruments” were situated so as to drive the sound frequency directly into the plate. The construction of Joynes’ own version of this famous experiment in physics was indeed fruitful, and through the course of his time in Banff he recorded the proceedings with a photographic document for each of the different hertz introduced and the correspondingly different nodal patterns that would emerge. In an attempt to translate this synaesthetic experience to a gallery setting, the exhibition at Latitude 53 was carried out.
Given the nature of this work, there may be a temptation to become instilled with the gravitas of a sacred temple, following the idea that some kind of basic “truth” is being revealed. This mysticism may even enter into a new-aged surmising of “God” being coaxed out of the transcendental and brought into the material world, made manifest by an archetype that spontaneously emerges from sand. The problem with all of this is that the inscription of these nodal patterns as some kind of “intelligent design” reduces them to such—a mere design. Stripped from the equation would be the dynamism that is present, both in the frenetic jumping vibration of the sand, itself something as a force, and the morphing between pattern and pattern. Somebody said to me the other day, “that’s the problem with the popular movement known as ‘new age,’ there’s nothing ‘new’ about it.” It’s funny because it’s true, the “new age” in art tends to be most known for its brazen reliance on hackneyed clichés and grossly inadequate, over-simplifying representations of incredibly intricate, dynamic and complex situations. I introduce this observation because the work of Joynes, by contrast, resists being delineated as such, there is no “moral” to his story. This in spite of a preoccupation with elemental physics, themes that can easily seduce one into the dogma of archetypes, conversely the artist sometimes called “Clinker” does not abide by such pigeon holes.
Now the artist may disagree with the positioning of his work as a resistance of archetypes, specifically ones that ordain the Platonic “models” (truth) towards which we should aspire to copy and copy well. In the artist’s own words the work is described as a “simple beauty” that “mirrors other ageless forms seen in walking meditation paths, Tibetan mandalas, and figures of the Chinese I Ching.” Here is the moment where I am compelled to diverge from the artist’s own interpretation of his work, however with some confidence that the artist will identify with what I have to say. This case against the archetype must be stated carefully because there remains a great potential for any such “type” to be demolished in favour of play, so that the work becomes loose around its borders and activated as such. The imperative question that follows is, why should we be content to draw down life to a reductive principle that makes the contingent “essential” and the dynamic static? Contrary to the essential truth assumed of this nodal patterning, any register of vitalism is compelled to overturn the inscription and its stasis in favour of entering into the dynamic flow, the very social physics where the instrument is finally played. Joynes draws on the archetype in his approach toward a perceived gravitas implicit to deploying elemental forces, but in his unrelenting quest for synaesthesia he can not help but push his model through different modalities that eventually form compositions, and thereby enter into play. There can be no hierarchy of forms in a dynamic field because matter is thrashing about too violently, instead Joynes goes about the business of constructing relationships, the patterns and hertz travelling through different transitions and interrelations, always moving, always becoming. What I am insisting upon is an inversion of the “order from chaos” dictum, upon entering the infinite field of molecular politics it is the chaos that we divine from order which forms the object at play—in all of its dynamic, unpredictable complexity.
Returning now to the exhibition at Latitude 53, the dynamic character of Joynes’ investigation was best reproduced in the aural environment that he constructed. Around the room, directly behind each of the 12 photographs, emanates sound generated from hand-constructed sensor boxes, oscillating at the exact hertz that corresponds to the nodal pattern that is represented. From 140 photographs the artist selected 12, representing a spectrum of different hertz. The choice was as much or more guided by the tones that would become the modulating presence in the installation, the field upon which we enact play. It seems to me that the artist is in his element with this aspect of the installation. At his artist talk he spoke passionately about listening to the nuances, turning your head slightly to see if the entire environment doesn’t change. However, the choice of photography to relay the nodal patterning might be understood to dissipate the active nature of his rig. Its frozen representational nature loses some degree of the “painterly” action referred to in his title—that of manipulating material in real time—and finally replaces an actuality with documentation of an actuality. Inscribing the patterns as static images does harken to an archetype, and inadvertently projects a static (dogmatic?) religiosity onto the proceedings. However, I do not want to hover over this point very long, Joynes is already well on his way to carry the experiment itself into performance, a very logical path for the artist to explore. And while the artist and I might disagree about the mode of delivery, we could not agree more with regards to the emergent end of the work because it is a practice that, ultimately, is not about inscribing eternal symbols that are reductive to experience. Rather, Joynes’ abiding concern, the force of his artistic desire, is bound up in the kinetic activity of play. I look forward to the artist’s new compositions, and furthermore I think that Joynes, having arrived at the juncture where his experiment must be played live, has already begun to raise the stakes within the terms of his practice, carried forward by the most primal charge of them all: the derivation of the new and unforeseen, that which constitutes the thrill of the creative act unfolding in real time.