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Three new minimalist sculptures by Zarouhie Abdalian on view at Berkeley Art Museum
Installation view of Zarouhie Abdalian / MATRIX 249, on view at the UC Berkeley Art Museum (BAM/PFA) August 2 through September 29, 2013 . Photo: Sibila Savage.

BERKELEY, CA.- Zarouhie Abdalian / MATRIX 249 is the first solo exhibition in a museum by the Oakland-based artist. On view August 2 through September 29, 2013, the exhibition showcases three new minimalist sculptures by Abdalian, made specifically for the BAM/PFA presentation. The new series of works relate to an upcoming public art project commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) as part of its biennial SECA Art Award exhibition this fall.

Pete Seeger and Lee Hays’s iconic folk song “If I Had Hammer (The Hammer Song)” serves as an integral point of reflection for Abdalian’s sculpture Ad libitum (If I Had a Hammer), which consists of a long brass instrument wire extended along the concrete wall of the gallery. This popular song became an anthem for the civil rights movement of the sixties, and is the selected song of WikiLeaks. Bone bridge saddles are placed along the wire at intervals that visually express the collection of pitches in “If I Had a Hammer.” The strings are not meant to be played, however, leaving the melody of the song to the viewer to intuit. The piece loosely connects two additional sculptures on either side of the gallery: As a demonstration and Each envelope as before. The former consists of a continuously ringing electric alarm bell inside a vacuum chamber. As we see the metronomic hammering of the bell, we realize that we should also hear the noise it generates; yet since the sound does not have a medium to travel through, the hammering is inaudible.

Each envelope as before offers the inverse of the silently ringing bell. Little hammers tap the interior of an opaque black box, articulating its shape and volume, at approximately the same rate that the hammer hits the bell inside As a demonstration. We hear the hammers, but we can’t see them. Together these two works operate dialectically with two of our primary senses, sight and sound, with one sense acting as a perceptual foil for the other: what is heard cannot be seen and what is seen cannot be heard.

These works are related to a major public artwork that will be presented as part of SFMOMA’s forthcoming SECA Art Award exhibition. Sited in downtown Oakland around Frank Ogawa Plaza, Abdalian’s sound-based installation will be activated at different times of day during the run of the exhibition (September 14 and November 17, 2013). The work consists of brass bells placed on the rooftops of buildings near the plaza. The bells sound together once a day, at randomly determined times. Like the hammers tapping inside Each envelope as before, the bells are not visible, and thus one experiences the unexpected ringing without a visual reference point.

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