Above: Install of numinous low road; numinous hall, all photos courtesy of houseguest.


numinous low road; numinous hall (retrospectives on change)


Review
Hunter Kissel


In an intrepid gesture, Charles Rivera solicits visitors to houseguest gallery to assume control of his sound-based work. His solo exhibition is called numinous low road; numinous hall (retrospectives on change), and within the confines of houseguest’s modestly sized space, one may feel perfectly comfortable to act in accordance with the artist’s implicative directions.

Rivera positions eight sound systems, such as vintage stereos and cassette decks, on the floor or on shelves in the gallery, each ready to be played at the will of the viewer or, in this case, the listener. Even without didactic materials, it is clear Rivera intends for multiple tracks to be functioning at once, creating a unique sound experience that combines otherwise unrelated auditory content. Any discernible components of a single recording are lost amongst other tracks, and houseguest effectively becomes engrossed with an ambient, almost ritualistic pulse.

Such an outcome is apt for an exhibition containing the term “numinous,” meaning to possess religious or spiritual qualities. What’s more, at least two of the recordings derive from religious ceremonies; one of which, entitled Sunyata (all works dated 2019), loops the blessing of the eucharist during a Catholic mass. The tape motions through a Hitachi single-cassette player and, like most of the work in the exhibition, is accompanied by a diagram of music staffs that are isolated, overlapped, or connected via various geometric shapes.

In this case, the diagram in Sunyata contains five staffs intersected by a series of rays descending (or ascending) the page. The array of music notes, clefs, and scribbled phrases help to articulate Rivera’s conceptual foundation and process, operating less as compliments to the recordings and more as alternative modes of illustrating the core principles of his practice.

Some viewers may find it difficult to interpret what they see on the page if they are unfamiliar with sheet music. What exactly are we observing: are these the sounds we hear, or something entirely different? Additional provisions may prove useful, especially given the unconventional presentation strategies of—what may be to some viewers—illegible musical compositions.

Similar limitations arise when listening to and viewing Karma. On a sheet hanging adjacent to a three-in-one stereo, seven staffs are drafted in a star-shaped formation, wherein the beginnings and ends of the staffs serve as the star’s points. They merge in the center, muddying their clarity and suggesting momentary cacophony.

The diagram in Karma may be one of the most comprehensible in numinous low road; numinous hall, yet houseguest visitors may still find themselves puzzled as to how the accompanying track is related. The speakers emit a steady humming that, whether intentional or as a result of the antiquated machinery, briefly skips. As for the humming itself, one may wonder if they are listening to the overlapping in the drawing or each staff individually, or if the staffs are indicative of an experience of multiple sound systems in the gallery playing at once. Withholding this knowledge from the viewer diminishes the work’s aptitude to transmit Rivera’s conceptual framework.

Still, turning each recording on or off, and playing multiple machines at once, is a delight. Rivera has provided only a fraction of completed artworks, giving agency to his listeners to complete his desired end. Rarely are viewers relied upon to this extent to fulfill a work, a democratizing quality for this exhibition. What’s more, some of the equipment, such as a salmon-hued radio in Kshana, are striking and vivid enough in their appearance to provoke nostalgia for some music-loving viewers. At the same time, these sound systems exemplify the technological changes that have taken place over the course of only a few decades.

This kind of implicit change bolsters the more obvious change-related implications in the exhibition, notably in the show’s parenthetical title as well as a gallery wall covered in hand-written musings on change borrowed from history. Above two works presented on shelves installed above the baseboards, Rivera meticulously inscribes excerpts on time and transformation from well-known authors, artists, and theorists. For instance, Rivera writes a quote from Henri Bergson’s An Introduction to Metaphysics (1953) (his emphasis): “There is a reality that is external and yet given immediately to the mind...This reality is mobility. Not things made, but things in the making, not self-maintaining states, but only changing states exist.”

The abundance of musings aim to guide a visitor’s reflection on change and temporal states. Individually, the quotes, including ones attributed to John Cage and Carl Jung, work well as juxtapositions to Rivera’s art, becoming clear threadlines to delineate the artist’s conceptual approach. Other phrases from the likes of Albert Einstein and Thomas Merton shed light on the universality of the exhibition’s themes and trial-based experiences.

As insightful as this particular gallery wall can be, the sheer amount of information is rather overwhelming, especially given the lofty jargon and combined length (there are 16 excerpts total). Considering the unconventional nature of sound art and the diagrams Rivera has created, pairing each work with an individual quote⁠—instead of presenting all the language together in a single block paragraph⁠—could assist in making the entire exhibition more accessible. Moreover, all of the selections are credited to men, potentially alienating viewers who do not identify as male.

Despite any shortcomings, numinous low road; numinous hall offers a laudable attempt to delegate creative power to the viewer and make contemporary art accessible in a novel way. The format of the exhibition expands the possibilities of the ways in which artist and audience interact, resolving what is often a disconnected relationship. The visual elements of Rivera’s work, on the other hand, are difficult to decipher and, depending on the viewer, esoteric. Even so, the exhibition’s physical requirements are a refreshing invitation for those seeking an active gallery experience.

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numinous low road; numinous hall (retrospectives on change) is on view at houseguest gallery until January 4, 2019.

houseguest is located at 2721 Taylor Boulevard, Louisville, KY 40208 and open Saturdays 10a-1p or by appointment.

Notes:

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Hunter Kissel
Contributor to Ruckus
12.27.19




Install of numinous low road; numinous hall, all photos courtesy of houseguest.


Install of numinous low road; numinous hall, all photos courtesy of houseguest.


Install of numinous low road; numinous hall, all photos courtesy of houseguest.


Install of numinous low road; numinous hall, all photos courtesy of houseguest.