Imagine one of those brain-washing scenes from a 1970s conspiracy flick and you get a pretty good sense of Richard Garet’s mesmerizing installation of light and sound he calls Electrochroma, a 58-minute endurance test of sensory bombardment. On the far wall of a small black room, projected blobs of white light flash and flicker, while unnerving electronic tones—throbbing, buzzing, droning—move through surrounding speakers, circling your head and, at some frequencies, sitting inside it. Like a symphony in length and design, the work begins with a quiet, repeated pulsing, and then gathers momentum, reaching moments of such intensity that the piercing chaos seems to vibrate actual neurons.
Garet achieved all this by digitally manipulating light and sound captured from various old-fashioned analog sources: electromagnetism, 16mm film, recordings of a projector’s mechanics, and the human voice. Near the end, when you hear several wordless and ethereal notes sung by a woman named Marylea Martha Quintana Madiman (whose Facebook avatar pictures herself as an infant reading Mad magazine), you can only hope that the joyous relief you feel is genuine. Garet’s psychedelic chamber will soon close, perhaps saving the city from further delirium. The thrills here are visceral, but they come at the risk of glimpsing your own insanity.
Bernd and Hilla Becher: ‘Water Towers’
Like obsessed collectors, Bernd and Hilla Becher, husband and wife, spent 50 years photographing the world’s industrial structures, a project of extraordinary consistency. All shot with the same cold formality, their black-and-white portraits of grain elevators, gas tanks, winding towers, and other massive objects convey a somber admiration for the functional monuments humans can construct. But when grouped into arrays of similar design (what the duo called “typologies”), the pictures are transformed from icons into fascinating studies of form and variance. In this respect, they’re not unlike serial investigations of geometry by the Minimalists (Sol Lewitt and Carl Andre were among the Bechers’ first art-world fans).
The photographs here of water towers, taken over a 20-year span starting in the 1970s, demonstrate the dogged efforts the couple made in pursuing their categorization. The typologies, mostly of European designs, display an intriguing variety of volumetric grace: towers shaped like fluted goblets, mushrooms, baskets, and the ubiquitous golf balls on tees. Each one, isolated from its environment with careful framing, takes on the presence of Modernist sculpture—a category for which the Bechers actually received a Golden Lion at the 1990 Venice Biennale.
In contrast, the towers on New York rooftops, which dominate the show, are utilitarian vessels. The long sequences of these stout, and rather clunky, wooden barrels don’t really examine shape and line but rather establish a mood, oddly, of retro sci-fi. Rising against the sky with their conical tops, central pipes, and supporting metal legs, they begin to resemble Jules Verne rockets, readied for a trip to the moon. Sonnabend Gallery, 536 W 22nd, 212-627-1018. Through December 18
Joe Diebes: ‘Chronology’
It may be one of the more remarkable performances you’ll ever encounter of Bach’s Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, but performer Joe Diebes isn’t making a sound. In a series of videos, we watch the artist’s hand, holding a pen, attempt to trace (on translucent vellum) the notes from the pages of the score as they’re played from a recording. Capturing little more than gestural approximations, Diebes produces a series of hieroglyphic loops and squiggles that delightfully appear, in the end, like some of Henri Michaux’s mystical pseudowriting, suggesting a similar, trance-like engagement.
Elsewhere, the visual expression of music—which Diebes has investigated before in several beguiling installations—becomes manic. In a piece titled anachronism 1, he wrote and then erased passages of the St. Matthew Passion onto the same manuscript page until the paper began to disintegrate. In anachronism 2, he copied Beethoven’s last string quartet in its entirety onto the same set of staves, making a dense, jittery, and unreadable score.
Then there’s the hallucinatory video Scherzo. Clips of a cellist bowing short and impossibly fast passages Diebes wrote himself were fed into an algorithm that produces an infinitely cycling piece that never quite repeats itself. Featuring MTV-like jumps and pounding, relentless rhythms, the work is bravura performance of frenzied ecstasy. Diebes is a virtuoso of the virtual. Paul Rodgers/9W, 529 W 20th, 212-414-9810. Through December 18