What Silence Looks Like

May 24, 2007|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

Remember Simon and Garfunkel's 1960s-era hit The Sound of Silence?

But what exactly does silence look like? And of course, what does it sound like?

This is the subject explored in Speaking of Silence I, an extraordinary exhibit by local artists and students on view at Sub-Basement Artist Studios.

The show was organized by Art on Purpose, a community nonprofit founded by curator-educator Peter Bruun that sponsors local exhibitions and workshops about social justice issues.

At Sub-Basement, Bruun has put together a potpourri of works ranging from minimalist painting and sculpture to photography, performance art and sound pieces. All of them in one way or another address the meaning of silence as an experience.

Among the most compelling works in the show is a sound piece called Youth & Silence, which consists of a selection of taped interviews with young people living in Baltimore's distressed urban neighborhoods.

The piece records their often-poignant stories of the isolation and loneliness they endure as a result of having no one to talk to who can understand their problems. For them, silence is at once a burden and a refuge from the often brutal conditions of their lives.

Jo Smail, an artist who has suffered the tragedy of losing her life's work when her studio was consumed by flames several years ago, compounded by a subsequent stroke that left her unable to communicate, is represented by a group of spare, abstract paintings that evoke the mute desolation of those experiences.

In Smail's case, the paintings were for a time the only way in which she could express her thoughts and feelings to others. They became a form of therapy that eventually allowed her to heal.

Likewise, the minimally inflected textures and hues of Claudia McDonough's large monochrome paintings mounted on curved supports evoke a mood of contemplative silence. They are visual metaphors of experiences that seem beyond the power of words to communicate.

The show also includes an atmospheric, enigmatic earthwork by Melissa Moore, whose subtle effects Bruun describes as standing "for all the things that happen around us all the time that are silent to us day in and day out."

Speaking of Silence I runs through June 2 at Sub-Basement Artist Studios, 118 N. Howard St. Call 410-659-6950 or go to sbastudios.com.


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