The Art of Sound — at the Abrons Arts Center

Mikhail Iliatov in his workspace studio at Abrons Arts Center

There are six artists in residence who have been working away in shared workspaces over at Abrons Arts Center since last fall.  Their exhibition, AIRspace 2010, opens tonight – and the studios will be open to the public this weekend, for anyone who’s curious about what they’ve been up to all this time. The artists’ work ranges from painting to printmaking, to sculpture and installation.

I recently stopped by the studios to speak with Mikhail Iliatov, an artist who works with sound. Mikhail was born in Kazan, Russia, lived in St. Petersburg, and originally came to the US in 1991 to study biochemistry. During my visit, he was in the middle of installing three pieces for the group show, and was pondering how best to present them at the opening. “I don’t want them to be just a side show,” he told me.  “People come and see the (others) paintings and sculpture and they listen for a few minutes, and then say, ‘Where’s your work?’

If you want a preview, you may be able to hear one of his pieces on 91.1 FM.  “I’ll turn it on May 20 before the opening and it will be playing until the end of the show on July 30, unless the FCC shuts it down sooner, of course,” he told me. “It’s a bit tricky because the transmitter is low-power, should be audible within 1-2 mile radius from Abrons but that also depends on buildings, trees, etc. in the vicinity.”

The 91.1 radio signal will be used to transmit a collection of field recordings from a district in Yokohama, Japan, called Katakura-cho. The piece is titled, “7 Views of Katakura-cho,” and is comprised of recordings of garbage being collected in the village.  Workers pick up different materials and use a loud speaker, accompanied by a theme song, to tell the villagers what type of material they are collecting that day. Mikhail showed me the field recordings on compact cassette tape, rolled up in little boxes, labeled: “#1   9:44  Recycling,” “#2  1:26 Heavy Material,” “#3   Gas Delivery,” and so on.

Mikhail’s other piece is made up of two field recordings from Morocco: “Tinfou  1:05:24” and “Ait ben Moro  1:05:24.”  They are the sounds of early morning prayers transmitted over loudspeakers in Morocco, along with the sounds of trucks driving through the desert.  Standing in the stairwell, I listened to the sounds from Morocco, and was transported to another land, instantly imagining for myself what that landscape must have looked like.

There will be plenty of sumptuous visuals at AIRspace 2010, but I recommend taking the time to listen to Mikhail Iliatov’s soundscapes while you have the chance.

466 Grand St. (at Pitt St.) // May 20-July 1, 2010 // Gallery hours: Tues-Sat. 11a-6p.