Home / Essays / 2007 / July / 2007 Nexus Texas Essay by Paola Morsiani

2007 Nexus Texas Essay by Paola Morsiani

When Justin Boyd decided to pursue studies as a visual artist in the mid-1990s, he was also interested in electronic music and had begun actively Djing. Investigating music’s influence on his visual art, he looked at the artistic precedents of The Dadaists, John Cage and Christian Marclay, who also used existing recordings on vinyl to compose original music. This exhibition includes a thirty-minute Dj performance (presented on opening night only) and two sculptures, all created in 2005. (These works were originally shown in Boyd’s one-person exhibition Pulling a Folk Thread Through an Ether Quilt, held at Sala Diaz in San Antonio in 2005, which included a third sculpture not presented here: The Pull of the Rear, The Draw of the Far [Vocal Butter Mix]).

In creating this group of works, Boyd began with the idea of using the sounds of American Folk music as an experiential dimension and as a means to project a meditative space on what it currently means to be an American. He first developed the performance, which lead him to the sculptures, which act as “extra players or extra hands,” as Boyd says. During the performance, Boyd works with three to four hand prepared records of American Folk Musics including, African-American, Native[OK?] American, and Shaker music. He wears a crocheted jumpsuit that his friend artist Elaine Bradford made for him. Her hands at work crocheting are seen close up in a video projected behind Boyd, serving as a visual metonymy for the act of weaving many threads of recorded music into a composition. 

He prepares the records with looping grooves, so words, sentences, or groups of notes are repeated time and time again. This aural reiteration also informs the two sculptures. Their long titles both describe the making of these kinetic sculptures and suggest lyrical interpretations of the artist’s purpose. Our Lost Spirit. A teasong composed with: Ashwaganda, Ginkgo Biloba, Bilberry (herbs for strength, wisdom and vision) heat, steam, pitch pipe (in the key of E) is the title of a work in which a working hotplate has been attached to a stool Boyd made with copper tubes; a teakettle rests on top and holds an infusion Boyd prepared using herbs chosen for their restoring capability. Intermittently, the water boils and the kettle whistles in a key of E. The steam wets a copper awning above it, and this distillation is gathered into a jug. A drawing of the USS Constitution is etched on the awning and repeated on the paper score on the adjacent wall. 

Boyd selected the key of E because it harmonizes with the sound played by the other sculpture, Revelation Through Repetition (Vocal Thread Mix). Ecstatic Exhales and Anguished Yodels of American Folk singers timestretched into a continuous braid of exploration. Boyd created this sculpture’s sound digitally, then transferred it to tape, which he plays on a reel-to-reel deck. He isolated the abrupt yodels of folk singers and extended them by several seconds (timestretched), creating a protracted single tone that slows down our sense of time. The two reels of the player are hooked onto wooden structures that look like radio emitters or windmills, one lower than the other. In conceiving this work, Boyd looked to Jamaican Dub music, which also uses sound delay methods. 

These sculptures are essentially musical instruments of Boyd’s own creation, their simplicity embracing the idea of origins he associates with pre-modern American music. As this minimal music encourages listeners to forget the immediate folk-song context, it also suspends their sense of history with long notes that suggest a growing crescendo (and impending future). And so Boyd forges ahead, spurred on by his hope for soul-restoring revelation. (PM)