Commonwealth & Council: Uncommon Art
By Genie Davis
Running through November 5th at the collective gallery space that is Commonwealth & Council are two solo shows: Elana Mann’s interactive audio sculpture, The Assonant Armory, and Jen Smith’s textile work in The Body Is Free.
Boston-born and Los Angeles based, Mann’s exhibition is a series of sculptural instruments reshaped from musical horns and megaphones. The works are part of a series she began in 2014. They’ve been shaped as political as well as artistic objects, casts of human body parts that also feature acoustic properties. It’s “hear me, feel me, see me now” art, sculptures that, just as a centaur is a fusion of horse and man, fuses a musical instrument with a human form. Similarly, the context of her work fuses art with social justice commentary.
These pieces both symbolically and in very real terms reveal the ways in which sound travels through the body and into the body collective – the political Zeitgeist of the population. Deeply appropriate for today’s political culture and the hate-speak of this election season is the “Donald Trump(et)” which plugs a megaphone with the cast of a golden human anus. Sound is thus mute, or reduced to the sound of a famous fool farting.
Her “Hands Up Don’t Shoot Horns” provide the opposite of silence, amplifying voice while covering the speakers’ mouth. The artist says her hands-up-don’t-shoot-horn was originated during the protests in Ferguson, Missouri. Created from a cast of a hand that is designed to cover interactive viewers’ mouths, the palm of the hand features a hole that allows one to speak into the bell of a trumpet, creating a megaphone-like effect that enhances the voice. Mann has described her work as supporting the voices of resistance to state oppression and white supremacy.
These sculptures are designed to be used by anyone experiencing this exhibition. Mann creates ten of each sculptural form: she sees the number ten as symbolic of good luck and power, a belief that is a tenet of her own Jewish heritage.
Mann previously composed sculptures that were focused on the art of listening in politics, hearing the voices of others rather than drowning them out with one’s own. The works at Commonwealth & Council are the first the artist has created that are about speaking and voice, rather than listening. She has moved from actively listening to consciously speaking quite literally through her art.
In the exhibition, twenty plastic casts of “hands-up-don’t-shoot-horns” and “histophones” are on display in a setting that appears ready for viewers to take these works – and their own voices – to the streets. The setting resembles that of an armory, a gathering place for a crowd bent on protest or change. Along the edges of the room stand, like sentinels, aluminum casts of these works. This is where the heavy, discordant “Donald Trump(et)” sits, silenced by the voices of those taking up a meaningful cause.
While Mann’s work is all about what we hear and express, the sounds we make for good and those that are made in anger and should be silenced, Jen Smith’s work appeals to a different sense, the tactile. In This Body Is Free, her political and social commentary is delivered in textile work that depicts the figurative and literal fabric of our society.
A feminist artist, musician, and owner of a collaborative catering business, Smith’s work here is a floor to ceiling patchwork of old clothing and new fabric that has evolved and continues to do so over the course exhibition, with sections of cloth cut away and shaped into useful objects, given as gifts to those who have supported her. It is a sharing of work that can be literally touched and shaped, and in so doing, reshape our own expectations and motivations. Her work is entirely about sharing her artistic gift – through its visual expression, the exchange of art and food offerings, and the intimate politics of communal relationships.
For an art experience that is literally involving, viewers will find inspiration from these two evocative solo shows at Commonwealth & Council. The gallery is located at 3006 W. 7th Ste. 220 in Los Angeles.