Los Angeles

Evan Holloway

Marc Foxx Gallery

It is possible to like sound so much that you’d want to inhabit or somehow make yourself into a speaker, to crawl into the space and be reduced to the absence of everything but the sounds you make. Something akin to such an urge is behind Evan Holloway’s austere and groovy music box, Black Cabinet, 1997. Large, prepossessing, and reminiscent of a Richard Artschwager crate, the wood structure of the cabinet is covered in black vinyl. Walking around its somewhat rhomboid exterior sides, one encounters a black velvet curtain, an entrance to the cabinet’s dark interior and slightly raked linoleum floor. Another curtain inside reveals a “Themodist Metrostyle” player piano. Pushing down the pedals of the piano makes it play, and shows the source of the sound scrolling around: one of Holloway’s homemade player piano rolls, full of slashes and gaps, cuts in the shape of triangles, vertical barrings on graph paper, some holes covered over with masking tape. The piece has glissandi that sound like Debussy on acid, chords and percussive plunkings. The viewer/player can pedal slowly or madly, and listening/viewing the cabinet from the outside it seems as if it were possessed by an entire family of phantoms of the opera, each of whose personality is introduced in the quality of the playing.

Holloway supplied a copy of Poe’s short story “Ligeia” and of an elegant late ’50s–early ’60s ad for “hi-fi’s” encased in handsome furniture as source material for the show. Several drawings in Holloway’s backwards, handwritten cursive were ineffectively hung in a corner of the gallery. One announced: “The devil made me do this”—but this seemed unnecessary and somewhat too heavy-handed; he would have been better served by displaying one of his player piano scrolls as a drawing.

The governing force of his inventions is John Cage, not Satan—and Cage more as aesthetic enabler and harbinger than as a composer. Holloway investigates perception as participation; he questions the relation between the artist’s control and the audience’s submission. He allows his audience to play, but the notes of the piece are programmed; only if one adds notes while pedaling or foregoes pedaling altogether to play as one wishes—actions that Holloway implicitly encourages and applauds—does the piece surpass itself. Spending time with this work made it clear how reticent most people are when confronting the world ... art ... life—fearful of what can be one of the most liberating encounters imaginable.

The experience of Black Cabinet also suggested the solace of the confessional, the communal private pleasures of the back room, the atmosphere and mood-revamping techniques of a rave club, and the dark unknown of the coffin and tomb. In previous pieces—Drum Box, 1997, a large, soundproofed box just big enough to contain a drum set and a drummer whose drummings are barely audible outside and who is encouraged to “attempt to use the act of drumming to get high”; and Smell Oven, ca. 1997, in which a “scent-proof box” is sealed from its environment but vented so that the fumes from bacon frying on a hot-plate inside the box are piped outside to the surrounding neighborhood—Holloway’s work could be excellent conceptual fun, but was perhaps a little too controlled to express fully his important conceptualizations of how life relies on performance and how the beauties of performance require the live-and-now. With the architectural space of Black Cabinet, he loosens the parameters just enough for everything—interiority, perception, music—to get totally funky, while also providing a way to approach (and perhaps get lost on the way to) the sublime.

Bruce Hainley