Sean Duffy: The Grove

Arcadia Exhibitions Presents

Sean Duffy: The Grove

November 8 – December 20, 2007


DJ hi-res
Thursday, Dec. 6 at 7 p.m. 
in the Arcadia University Art Gallery

Thomas Devaney
Thursday, December 13 at 7 p.m. 
in the Arcadia University Art Gallery

"This is Nowhere" is a performance series featuring regional DJs and musicians exploring The Grove, organized by Music for Plants/LURE. Audio tracks from the series will be available for download here.

DJ hi-res (a.k.a. Jesse Pires) is life-long record collector. For the past three years he has hosted "The Ghetto Blaster” for Princeton University's WPRB 103.3 FM, a weekly radio program on which he showcases his wildly eclectic music tastes. While living in New York City Jesse also produced several short videos in collaboration with poet and musician Zach Barocas. Four years ago he returned to Philadelphia where he curates film and music programs for International House, a non-profit arts organization in West Philadelphia. For his response to The Grove, Pires will incorporate selections from his own vinyl collection in addition to other unforeseen source material.

Thomas Devaney is the author of A Series of Small Boxes(Fish Drum, 2007) and The American Pragmatist Fell in Love(Banshee, 1999). In the spring of 2007 he presented "No Silence Here, Enjoy the Silence," at the Institute of Contemporary Art (Philadelphia) for its exhibition "Locally Localized Gravity", and in 2004 he led "The Empty House" tour at the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site for "The Big Nothing." Devaney reviews poetry for The Philadelphia Inquirer and is a Senior Writing Fellow in the Critical Writing Program at the University of Pennsylvania. Riffing on The Grove's fetishistic application of speakers and use of LPs as cultural conduits for personal experience, Devaney's response to the installation, entitled "Sympathy for the Devil," explores a pivotal moment from his Irish-Catholic adolescence in Northeast Philadelphia.


About the Exhibition

Arcadia University Art Gallery is pleased to present The Grove, a traveling installation by Los Angeles-based artist Sean Duffy. This uniquely participatory project consists of 18 matching, variable speed phonographs, each linked to 20 speakers suspended from the ceiling. A wood crate of vintage LPs by instrumental and vocal performers located at each turntable allows participants to change the sound environment interactively. With close to 400 speakers, the installation creates an immersive, orchestral canopy of evolving compositions.    

Sean Duffy: The Grove, installation view at ASU Art Museum Museum, Arizona State Museum, Tempe. >

The intention behind this collaborative, public instrument is to entice participants into an active role in shaping what becomes an auditory analog of socio-cultural space. Tinted lamps and picnic-style benches (crafted by Duffy) give the gallery the user-friendly ambiance of a festive urban park at twilight. The speakers—each painted in earthy shades of green, brown, orange, and gray—hang like fruit from a vine-like network of 16,000 feet of speaker wire and broadcast the sound from multiple sources throughout the space. This dispersal creates a sonic displacement that encourages participants to experience the piece from a variety of positions.

The Grove (proposal drawing), 2006. Turntables, amplifiers, LPs, speakers, wire and wood; installation size varies. Courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Los Angeles and the artist. >

Many of the over one hundred LPs available were acquired from thrift stores. They range from archaic treasures, such as Fabulous Harmonica Played by the Yama Yama Man and Armed Forces Workout, to the Complete Canary Album, spoken language, and sound effects discs. (As critic Tommy Freeman noted, writing about The Grove in the April issue of Artweek, the spectrum of interests represented here points to “the ultimate catalyst that fuels popular culture in general: a fascination with fascinations.”) Says Duffy, "Each bin contains at least one spoken-word, acoustic guitar, drum-based, and piano record. I didn't want anything too abrasive, common, or too new. I also didn't want people to make any immediate associations once seeing or playing a selected record, so a lot of them are a bit kitschy." The nostalgia and curiosity elicited by browsing the jackets, as well as the instant gratification offered by the turntables, adds to the generous, hands-on nature of the project.

Duffy has directed The Grove to an eclectic audience that includes contemporary art viewers but also embraces kids of all ages, DJs, fans of experimental composition, as well as persons not immediately identified by their interest in music. As a piece that encourages spontaneous interaction and improvisation, the work is also tremendously forgiving. "You can't make a mistake and there's no performance anxiety,” says Duffy. “The best part is that you can create something with horrible and great moments, but you can never play the same thing again.”

Sean Duffy: The Grove, installation view at the Luckman Gallery, California State University, Los Angeles. >

In addition to the pleasures it offers, The Grove also addresses a number of critical issues. Along with providing a fresh model of interactivity, the work references the persistent evolution of audio technology and its impact on the communal aural environment. The installation’s transparent yet random overlapping of different kinds of recorded sound establishes conditions that readily allude to public exchange, cooperation, tolerance, and freedom. The work also comments on the increased isolation Duffy believes is the result of the recent widespread use of iPods and other personal listening devices that he feels has led to a reduction of the public sound-bleeds that have inspired composers from Charles Ives and John Cage to an entire generation of hip-hop performers and DJs.

Writing about The Grove, Julie Joyce, Director of the Luckman Gallery (California State University, Los Angeles) and co-organizer of the exhibition, states: “Duffy’s art liberates the viewer from passivity and insists on living in the moment with irreplaceable (and inherently unrepeatable) moments. While illustrating Nietzsche's maxim that ‘Out of chaos comes order,’ Duffy is an audio Heraclitus, adding to the proverb ‘you cannot step twice into the same river’ with an array of vinyl groove possibilities and combinations approximating infinity.