Like so much in this year’s show, Shannon Collis’ work is as audible as it is visual. In fact, her intent is to “make audible the visual qualities of hand generated” lines and images, so that they emit an eerie violinlike sound as the hand drawn images are pulled up the wall in a loop that resembles a swirling microfiche if it were captured by Robert Motherwell—or perhaps the X-ray machine of a demented doctor who decided to use science for beauty. Several of these machines line the walls on either side of Collis’ gallery and, as you stand there, it is the disjunction between the images—black squiggles on transparency rising in lit-up lines like backward waterfalls—and the noise, which almost resembles the simple whirring of the machinery, but, ultimately, amounts to more than that, that seduces you. The sounds are created when the black lines on the transparencies block the light picked up by LED sensors—or something. It is hard to say whether this is musical composition (Iannis Xenakis is an influence), art, or science. But it is easy to say it is supremely cool.
Collis’ other piece, 'Frequencies' takes the opposite approach and uses sound to create drawings. Twelve white boxes each have piles of silicon carbide on top of them. Each of the boxes emit a sound, which, I for one could not hear. But that is the point; the vibrations of the inaudible sound cause the graphite to arrange itself in dense swirling patterns that resemble a fingerprint. Up close, you can see the graphite visibly jump in small, intricate movements, like bits of lead filings being pulled by a magnet. The effect, at ground level, is mesmerizing. And then you realize that while you are hearing Collis’ drawings emit their violinlike tones, you are watching the rest of her music draw on the white cubes. Collis’ visual palette is extraordinarily simple—black and white—and her sonic range also rather narrow—the violinlike drone—but each completes the other in such a way that the combined sensory experience is both minimalist and maximal. Too often the label “experimental” is simply an excuse for failure—causing Picasso to famously quip, “I do not seek, I find”—but Collis’ work is exploratory in the best sense, simultaneously revelatory and searching.