Camille Norment: Plexus

March 3, 2022–January 2023, Dia Chelsea

Overview

Throughout her career, Camille Norment has probed what she terms “cultural psychoacoustics,” defined as the investigation of sociocultural phenomena through sound and music—specifically instances of sonic and social dissonance. In particular, she explores three tones: the bell, feedback, and the sine wave. Expanding on these sonic phenomena for her site-specific commission at Dia Chelsea, Norment will create distinct sculptural installations for the two galleries, which she will unite through a sonic composition. Her installation at 545 West 22nd Street engages with the history of the site as part of the former shoreline turned landfill. The work touches on the impact of maritime industry on the area as well as the role of society as a human construct in relation to the migration of bodies across the globe. In the adjacent building of 541 West 22nd Street, Norment will engage the three tones in a responsive installation that will interact with bodies moving through the space. This work explores ideas of experienced time and historicity, spirituality, power, and political resistance.

Camille Norment: Plexus is curated by Kelly Kivland, chief curator and director of exhibitions at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, and former curator at Dia Art Foundation, with Randy Gibson, manager of exhibition technology, Heidie Giannotti, director of exhibition design, and Zuna Maza, curatorial assistant. Public programming for the exhibition is organized by Jordan Carter, curator at Dia.

Camille Norment: Plexus is made possible by significant support from Kelley and Christopher Bass. Generous support is provided by the Kaleta A. Doolin Foundation, Dia’s Director’s Council, and the Horace Goldsmith Foundation. Additional support is provided by the American-Scandinavian Foundation, Agnes Gund, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kimberly and Tord Stallvik, and Virginia Cowles Schroth.

For nearly twenty-five years, Camille Norment has probed sociocultural phenomena through sound and music, focusing on sonic dissonance as a site of potential and vibration as a relational dynamic between bodies, spaces, and materials. For the site-specific exhibition Plexus, named for an intricate network of relations, Norment has conceived a sonic and sculptural installation in the adjacent galleries of 541 and 545 West 22nd Street. The two-part installation unites the logic of the drone through the continuous tones of various sonic entities—the bell, feedback, sine wave, and voices—that activate the resonant high and low frequencies inherent to the gallery architecture.

In the center of the 541 gallery sits a large brass sculpture that simultaneously recalls a bell, singing bowl, and horn. Another brass form resembling a clapper (the tongue of a bell) or a mute (a device used to change the timbre of an instrument) extends from a stem that drops from the ceiling above. As a unified sculpture, the work summons and amplifies ambient sound directed into it through a feedback loop facilitated by live microphones hung from the ceiling. The sculpture glows in contrast to the brick walls and cement floors around it. As one nears the work, spectral artifacts of static from 1960s and ’70s radio broadcasts (including community reporting and documentation of social and environmental struggles) become audible through the feedback.

For the artist, the bell, sine wave, and feedback—tones used throughout the space—resonate with ideas of experienced time, historicity, power, resistance, and agency. While the striking of a bell often marks measured time or a significant event, its subsequent droning effect lends voice to those experiences in between. “The bell drone is at once a memory, a medium, and a summoning—its voice [echoes] through space and time in prediction of its own return,” Norment has stated. The artist envisioned the installation as an instrument to be activated through the public’s spontaneous engagement with the work. Visitors moving throughout the gallery act as both composers and receivers, impacting the soundscape and thus the work itself. As the artist notes, the feedback elicited by the movement of bodies “is a state of alarm; it is systemic pattern; it is a communal gathering; it is an exponential saturation of voice, existing and experienced as a negotiation of control.” 

The installation in the 545 gallery takes the history of its site as a point of departure. First a shoreline, next a landfill, and then a port, Chelsea has undergone significant change, including in the last century as it was transformed through gentrification from an industrial area to a dense cultural district. Building on these geologic, maritime, and manufacturing histories, Norment considers our complex relationships to land, water, and labor. In this work she references human migration across oceans and the disruption of ecological systems such as the recent floods in this neighborhood as a challenge to the urban environment. 

In this second part of the exhibition, monumental sculptural forms, made of responsibly sourced wood, extend from the architecture like structural growths onto the floor as a continuation of the vaulted ceiling, which itself resembles the ribbed frame of a ship. Both rhizomatic and systematic, the wooden sculptures isolate and unify the voices of twelve singers, as well as the sound of grinding teeth, vibrating through their structural limbs. The visitor experience changes as one encounters the work; a microtonal chorus is audible when one is moving through the room and then, when one sits or lies on the wood sculptures, the vibrations of these voices are felt through the body. In contrast to the higher frequencies present in the adjacent room, the low humming here uses the drone of voices to evoke states of being ranging from utterances of pleasure to somber moaning. Here the social is interconnected with ecological material, exposing our inextricable relationship to our environment while highlighting the potential for growth and rebuilding. 

By engaging the architectural and sonic aspects of Dia Chelsea, these commissions extend Norment’s focus on evolutionary feedback, that is, the historical and contemporary relations between one another as well as people and the environment. As visitors move through both spaces, they encounter entrancing yet dissonant soundscapes and feedback loops of entangled histories, as well as experiencing the aural and tactile impact of being—both as a singular body and in relation to others.

—Kelly Kivland

Throughout the run of Camille Norment: Plexus, Dia Chelsea’s talk space will host an iterative presentation of literature and sound, creating a constellation of contexts to accompany the exhibition and its live programs. The space features a rotating and expanding guest-curated library of books and vinyl records for visitors to select and listen to on turntables. For more information follow this link.

Camille Norment was born in Silver Spring, Maryland, in 1970. She received a BA in comparative literature and art history from the University of Michigan in 1992. At New York University, she received an MFA in 1994 and an MA in Interactive Telecommunications in 1998. She attended the Whitney Independent Study Program in 1994–95. Norment’s practice is informed by the sonic and spans drawing, installation, performance, sculpture, sound, and video. Her work has recently been shown in solo exhibitions at Oslo Kunstforening, Norway; Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, University of Chicago; and Temple Bar Gallery + Studios, Dublin. Several permanent public installations and sculptures of her work are installed in Norway and Italy. She has recently performed at institutions including the Munch Museum, Oslo (2021); Renaissance Society, University of Chicago (with Hamid Drake, 2019); and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (with Craig Taborn, 2019). Her albums include Toll (2011) and the soundtrack and special-edition LP for the film The Haunted (2017/20). Norment represented Norway in the 2015 Venice Biennale and has since participated in the Kochi-Muziris (2016), Montreal (2016), Lyon (2017), and Thailand (2018) biennials. She is prorector of research at the Kunsthøgskolen i Oslo (Oslo National Academy of the Arts). She lives in Oslo.

1. Untitled, 2022

Brass, sine waves, autonomous feedback system, and archival radio static

2. Untitled, 2022

Wood, steel, and audio recording of voices and teeth grinding

 

The artist would like to thank Ekmeles vocal ensemble (including: Tariq Al-Sabir, Kayleigh Butcher, Phillip Cheah, Edwin Davis, Lucy Dhegrae, Jeffrey Gavett [director], Steven Hrycelak, Dominic Inferrera, Kate Maroney, Thomas McCargar, Peter Stewart, and Jonathan Woody); Caio Carvalho at Pinch Recording; Threshold Acoustics; John Torres; MEER Precision; New York Heartwoods; Rothe Lumber; South Side Design + Build; and Urban Art Projects. Radio recordings were sourced from New York Public Radio’s archives and preservation department and the American Archive of Public Broadcasting.

Artist

Camille Norment

Camille Norment was born in Silver Spring, Maryland, in 1970. She lives in Oslo.

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