Inclusion: Art and Music Faculty Exhibition – The Feedback Group Project

(Photo by Michael Upton)

Since last year, art professor Tim McDonald and music professor Christian Gentry have been collaborating on an ongoing project called “The Feedback Group.”

The concept of The Feedback Group is to combine the visual process of drawing on a canvas with the overlapping sounds it creates.

“The Feedback Group is basically a move of sound that can go into infinity,” Gentry said. “What I wanted to do was see what could happen if I improvise – if we work as a duo, much like a jazz pianist and a bass player or a saxophone player.”

On Feb. 27, McDonald and Gentry performed two 10-minute sets in the Mazmanian Art Gallery for the first time.

McDonald used three charcoal pencils and drew a shoreline fire, while contact microphones, placed horizontally on the back of the canvas, captured the scratching sounds of the pencils. Gentry said he used a Mixer, a musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) controller and a Mac to capture the sound. The Mixer controls the data and maps out the software, so Gentry could select various components of the process. The MIDI controller picks up the sound from the microphones, boosts the signal of the recording and sends it back into the software, amplifying the “sculpted” sounds through the speakers.

Junior Michael Brule said, “As he was drawing, it kind of sounded like a fire, like wood crackling, and the wilderness. At some points, I heard birds chirping and crickets.”

Gentry said the sound changes based on what McDonald draws and where the microphones are placed. Gentry also loops the sound, taking previous versions and recording new sounds on top of the mix. “Every time we do this, it’s different because every time [McDonald] draws it, it’s different. … The software is my store, [McDonald] is my instrument and his store is the canvas. His instrument is his gestures that I’m trying to capture.”

McDonald said his drawings of fire using charcoal, pastels and paper are “kind of a new direction” for him. His new series, titled “this burning world,” originates from a Buddhist phrase, the idea of a suffering world and the actual burning of the world.

“It’s kind of a multi-layered thinking that’s going into this. … Fire started to become an overarching theme in my work. Even when it’s not present, it’s still there underneath,” he said. “We’re all sort of engaging with ideas. … Some things look like they’re abstract … but, it’s still generally standing for something else. Whether it comes from an emotional space, a psychological space, or a spiritual space.”

He added the exhibition “Inclusion” was planned last year and the idea was to involve “everybody that teaches with us,” full-time and part-time faculty, to diversifying the ways of approaching and making art. “Everybody is different … and they can actually co-exist.”

Also displayed in the art and music faculty exhibition were the works of professors of art Brian Bishop, Barbara Milot and Catherine Carter.

Other contributors included Dean of Arts and Humanities Marc Cote, assistant professors of art Paul Yalowitz, Ellie Karkow, Stephanie Grey and Keri Straka, and visiting lecturers Ruth Scotch, Carol O’Malia, John Thompson, Tyler Vance and Joe Acone.

Yalowitz, who writes and illustrates children’s books such as “The Admiral and the Penguin,” exhibited an image of three haggard old men, a dog and a robot from a story he is currently working on. The story is about a robot barber who is ridiculed by the new guy in town and slowly is ostracized by his fellow townsfolk. Eventually, disheartened, the robot decides to shut himself off.

Yalowitz said he came up with the story observing his surroundings while living in Denver. “One day, I went for a drive and there was a landslide and it blocked the roads. So, I’m sitting there for like an hour and I just start thinking, ‘What if the landslide uncovered a mine and what if in the mine, there was a robot that worked the mine?’”

Acone, who painted a portrait of James Baldwin from his 1965 debate with William F. Buckley, said the idea of “rendering a bunch of people that I respect” and creating a “large poster-size painting of them” is the start of a new series for him. Acone said he also made a portrait of Bernie Sanders.

Additionally, he said the portrait of Baldwin is only one layer with no underdrawing – “just a blank canvas next to a screen projector,” and took about eight hours to make.

Straka represented the overlay of plate tectonics in terms of internal systems of the human body including organs, flesh and cell division with her pink-painted stoneware clay sculptures.

“This is all brand new work. This is just from the two months of this year. … I did a whole series on the circulatory system and blood cells, and then this is new. So, it’s still thinking about the human body and the intimacy of the human body, that interior world, but in a little bit of a different format,” she said.

Junior Isaac Vu said, “It’s a little gross, but I think that’s what it’s supposed to portray. Pink reminds you of flesh and a bunch of bubblegum. … That’s the color of softness. Adding trypophobia aesthetics to it makes it seems like its clashing against each other, softness with a relatively gross and unappealing imagery. Even though it’s very anti-aesthetic with the textures, the color makes it aesthetic again.”

Straka described how stoneware has the ability to look like bone or flesh and has an incredible capacity for capturing texture. She considers texture in terms of memory.

Stoneware used to be made of granite and over time transitioned to clay. When the material is fired in a kiln, the clay forms into a state of stone, she said. “I’m taking something that used to be stone and manipulating it in various different ways.”