Hong Kong

View of “Jacqueline Kiyomi Gork,” 2021. Photo: Michael Yu.

View of “Jacqueline Kiyomi Gork,” 2021. Photo: Michael Yu.

Jacqueline Kiyomi Gork

Twenty-four hypersensitive condenser and contact microphones, twelve strategically placed speakers, one Mac mini, six needle-felted wool sculptures, a carpet of weathered pebbles, and two fuzzy outsize sound blankets. At Jacqueline Kiyomi Gork’s recent solo exhibition “Olistostrome,” the stage was set. The only missing element? Its protagonist: the viewer.

The orchestration of sonic space undergirds the practice of Kiyomi Gork, whose background includes studies in computer music and archaeo-acoustics and a stint in the San Francisco noise-music scene. Created in the mode of La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela’s Dream House, 1969, their installations approximate itinerant recording studios, anechoic chambers in laboratories and military compounds, and clamoring concert halls. In each work, the artist captures noise, controls its release—via directional speakers, subwoofers, air-blower pumps—and engineers its absorption with muffling quilts, modular sculptures of wool and foam, and synthetic and human hair. Indelible and ephemeral, Kiyomi Gork’s works mine our emotional attachments to sound. Like a song once heard on the radio, an impromptu concert by a long-forgotten band, or music playing in the background of a dream, the artist’s sounds, with their links to the domestic and the body, become moments visitors find themselves wanting to grasp again and again. 

Reminiscent of a Greco-Roman sculpture garden, “Olistostrome” featured six sculptures of colored wool, polystyrene foam, and steel atop a carpet of loose pebbles in a darkened room. Underneath those pebbles, microphones picked up one’s movements; the noise was then fed through signal-processing software and sent back into the environment. Collectively titled Solutions to Common Noise Problems (all works 2021), the sound installation morphed according to its audience. If one person inhabited the space, the feedback was isolated, crunchy, watery. However, if a crowd had gathered, as during the opening, the feedback began to layer, contributing to a thicker, more gravelly reification of sound. When this occurred, the positive-gain loop between microphone and speaker would glitch, triggering an overdrive distortion—at dangerously high decibel levels—before the circuit stabilized and another cycle began.

The exhibition’s title—a reference to the geological phenomenon of semifluid sediments sliding and accumulating, and the resulting instability—loosely anchored the pieces on view. At the entrance were Sound Blanket No. 5 and Sound Blanket No. 6: giant kimono-shaped wall sculptures of wool, denim, and satin. If these works allude to Kiyomi Gork’s diasporic identity as a fourth-generation American descendant of Japanese Okinawan and Eastern European heritage, they also underscore the shifting weight of that inheritance, both via the outfits’ absurd scale—think of a kid trying on a parent’s suit jacket—and in their conflation of nonfunctional ornament with private memory. A similar synthesis occurs in the “Attenuator” series. Referring to the classical statues Kiyomi Gork saw on a recent trip to Europe, these freestanding felted-wool works cleverly act as sound baffles. Arranged in a Stonehenge-esque circle, they also presented a liminal state between mythology and realism, and between ancient and contemporary. The peaty fibers and stratifications of rust and stone colors evoked the earth—Upper Paleolithic Venus statuettes, a mountain gorge—yet in the murky almost-light, the sculptures mutated from those almost-familiar forms to fuzzier, nongendered, nonhuman, and perhaps nonearthly ambiguations.

Kiyomi Gork encourages sensitivity to other sensory engagements. Like a ball pit, the sonic landscape was liquid with visitors’ movements; one’s own flesh responded in tandem with the quivering tamped-down fibers of the sculptures when the feedback went into the red zone. One began to feel molecular, like a protein migrating through the space, before eventually being soothed back into the collective streams of footsteps. Even long after one had left the exhibition, the sensation—like an earworm—followed.