Los Angeles

Michael Brewster

In the other-than-pejorative meanings of regionalism there must be an entry for indigenous style. Whenever a place is sufficiently nurturing or provocative to engender a look, technical or iconographic, among a number of resident artists what is shared and why should be considered. Los Angeles and its environs seem to foster experimentation with perceptual situations, most of them about light, often sunlight, as is evident in the work of such locals as Bob Irwin, Eric Orr, Maria Nordman, and Jim Turrell, all of them well known. Less well known, but at work in an area congruent with this group, is Michael Brewster. Brewster uses sound rather than light as a space definer. He considers himself a “sound sculptor,” arguing that the peripherally confined, frontal nature of sight makes it a perceptual relative of painting, while the 360 degree “scan” of hearing resembles more the three-dimensional character of sculpture.

The technical, even scientific, demands of this genre of art-making are great: equally so are the mystical demands made on the audience. The “meaning” for all this situational art is ours to invent: faced with these large-scale sensory deprivation units the slightest incident swells with information. Brewster circumvents the visual rarification that mars a good deal of the other environmentalists’ work in making sight subservient to hearing. Not only is the latter a less discriminate sense by nature, most gallery-goers hear less prejudicially than they see.

In his recent installation Brewster presented a simplified reprise of earlier work. In his clicker drawings of a few years back the architectural confines of various sites were established by means of a network of small mechanical clickers buried in the walls. Sounding at random they directed a connect-the-dots drawing in the mind of the viewer, propelling attention from one boundary of the room to another. Essentially linear, these pieces evolved into the fuller, more planar ones of 1978. In them he amplified sounds in order to set up standing waves that conformed to the peculiarities of the surrounding architecture and to the presence of humans. In a piece called Synchromesh from that year Brewster suspended a single speaker from the ceiling of a closed, dimly lighted gallery. From it emanated two fairly loud tones. Their speed and direction were such that at four points in the room the standing waves combined to produce a distinct fluttering sound. The auditory activity at each of these nodal points was mesmerizing. In this new work, Surrounded: Sharp Points Ringing, Brewster has reverted to a simpler situation, a single noise-maker again buried in the wall. This time the sound, isolated and somewhat faint, was a flat crackle that raced around the faces of the walls, making a line boundary of the room.

In all of Brewster’s work the viewer is obliged to move about the space in order to integrate what is heard with strictly visual notions of what that space is—its size, feel, character. The fullness of the discovery by means of hearing, as opposed to seeing it only, is striking. What may look to be an undistinguished spot is “shown” with sound to be quite the opposite.

Richard Armstrong