"Seeing sound: Gabriel de la Mora visually records decades of music at The Drawing Center"

26 July, 2016

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At The Drawing Center in New York, artist Gabriel de la Mora presents an installation of 55 pairs of found speaker screens, each imprinted with an inscription created by the dust and air that circulated through the speaker during its life. Pictured: installation view

Synesthetes claim the ability to associate numbers, sounds or colours across sensory pathways – and artists from Wassily Kandinsky to Iannis Xenakis have sought visual inspiration in music – but most of us would regard the idea of literally seeing sound as, in reality, impossible. In his current exhibition at The Drawing Center, however, Gabriel de la Mora interprets this proposition through a uniquely materialist lens, while also pushing the boundaries of the medium of drawing. Installed in symmetrical rows and clusters across the gallery, 55 pairs of vintage speaker grille cloths bear the visible imprint of decades of radio and music broadcasts.

De la Mora collected these screens in Mexico City flea markets, and they project the uncanny veneer of an earlier era in music technology and design; woven in chevrons, grids and undulating stripes, most are constructed in dull-brown fabric with gold or black details as warp and weft.

Once detached from the armature of a speaker and laid out flat, however, each grille cloth’s individual biography emerges in the form of darkened circles and rectangular patches that mark the site of exposure, stained by dust, sound, light and touch. Like aural palimpsests, these shapes are indexical or even photographic; they record the imprints of pop songs and news reports, radio segments and sports games, collective history met with external street noise and private conversations. Unaltered by the artist’s own hand, the ghostly shapes appear to have been drawn by sound itself, aided by time and atmospheric intervention.