New York

Scott Sherk

For his third exhibition at Kim Foster Gallery, Scott Sherk used the act of walking as source and subject. The work on view, like that by various predecessors for whom perambulation was a theme, brings the outside inside via documentation, and the material consequence of Sherk’s wanderings is a teched-up, twenty-first-century extension of Richard Long’s geometric arrangements of rocks and mud, Hamish Fulton’s photo-text chronicles, and Stanley Brouwn’s obsessive measurements of distance. It’s an old project buttressed by new(ish) machinery, Conceptual art with the assistance of a satellite navigation system and a stereo recording rig.

The show’s six works stem from field recordings of walks taken by the Pennsylvania-based artist in his home state, New York City, Los Angeles, and Ireland. Each consists of a wall-mounted CD of the recording and a set of headphones, an oversize black-and-white print containing information about route and sound track, and a welded-steel sculpture derived from the course of the journey, which Sherk tracks via GPS. He presents facts with the rigor, and look, of a dutiful Conceptualist: The print element of Pennsylvania State Game Land #106 (all works 2007), for instance, includes starting and ending coordinates, a topographical map, a description of the terrain along the 1.094 miles trekked (GRAVEL AND CLAY PATH, HARD WOODS, GRASSY CLEARING), a diagram charting distance against elevation, and three sound graphs picturing frequencies at various points along the way. That these dry particulars fail to approximate the sonic texture of one of Sherk’s outings is part of his point, and the longer one listens, the greater grows the disconnect between thirty-three minutes of wind, birdsong trills, and hammering rain and their graphic translation. At times a few recordings resemble sleep-machine music, but many are transfixing in the duration of their sheer ordinariness: This is the white noise we hear all the time and summarily ignore.

In the triangulation of the experience of the walk into sound, image/text, and object, it is, surprisingly—and regrettably—the last category that comes up short. Sherk’s previous work has focused on sculpture, and
these attenuated lengths of welded steel, kinked or looped to simulate his trajectories, could hold their own in isolation. Suspended just above the ground or at waist height, or mounted to the wall, they achieve an uneasy—and thus notable—equilibrium between precariousness and grace. Seen in conjunction with recording and print, however, the sculptures risk being understood as mere precipitates of data, pictorialized upshots of excursions more interesting than their manifestations in metal. The sculptural component of Museum Mile, NYC, a thin stretch whose subtle jags mimic Sherk’s path in and out of institutions along Fifth Avenue, seems a cold residue of a recording rife with curious moments—realizing, for example, that the outdoor noise of car doors slamming and horns honking is on ambient par with the din inside (a girl in a gallery stage-whispering “Daddy,” a museum gift-shop clerk relaying the price of some wares).

The test for Sherk, if he continues to work with sound, will be to convey some of the character of his recordings in their two- and three-dimensional registers. This might be done by tipping his hand a bit; the welcome, rare sound of his occasional footfalls, and the leavening effect of encountering the title Walk of Shame among a set of otherwise purely geographic designations, underscore the extent to which these works suffer from authorial evacuation. At his best, Sherk advocates a less detached relationship to one’s surroundings, and it’s a challenge he would do well to take up.

Lisa Turvey