Dallas — Kevin Beasley’s original tools in any work are his hands. He fully embraces the physicality of the sculpting process, but takes it further by incorporating sound as well. At previous exhibitions, he has blasted early ’90s rap that has shaken whole museums, immersing everyone in his work, or worked with sound to record patrons. All his work is site-specific, and the same is true for Black Rocker, his one-day performance and exhibition for the Dallas Museum of Art in the Friday Late Nights, 6 p.m.-midnight, as part of the Dallas Symphony's Soluna Festival.
With Black Rocker, Beasley has created comfortable seat cushions out of polyurethane foam, outfitted them with African-themed fabrics from a Harlem store, and connected the seats, which will lie directly on the floor. At the front and facing the seats will be the titular object, a black rocking chair meant to stir up images of contemplation. As far as the sound portion, there will be microphones on the floor, picking up the sound from patrons sitting on the cushions. Adjustments, clapping, and other changes will be picked up and amplified, making a recording of the intrusive and perhaps even discomforting experience.
Beasley used resin and polyurethane foam extensively in this piece, but in other works has incorporated shoes and objects that have a daily impact on us.
“Thinking about how those materials can be morphed, how they can be shaped, how we can also use them and think about them in terms of recontextualizing our understanding of other things like clothes or residue marks that are made on a daily basis,” Beasley said at his artist talk Thursday night at the Dallas Museum of Art. “They’re really messy, and I like that a lot, I like dealing with messy things.”
His use of sound transforms his physical installations by adding a layer of unexpectedness and static spontaneity to his exhibitions. Since his days working on his Master’s at Yale, he has DJed, and he regularly uses turntables and speakers extensively for this, both in the studio and in exhibitions.
“Turntables are pivotal for me in terms of really translating our thinking on the close relationship to sound as a physical thing and then its atmospheric quality,” Beasley said.
The site-specificity of each exhibition is seriously considered by Beasley. For his performance in the atrium of the DMA at the Late Night, he took into account the “different set of questions and concerns in that context.”
“At the Late Night, everyone is kind of chilling out, sitting, so I was thinking, ‘How do I approach this question of participation and engagement?’ which is an ongoing question for me, where I’m thinking a lot about, ‘Where’s the line?’” Beasley asked. “Mainly, if you’re present in a room and something is taking place that you’re witnessing, at what moment are you no longer a spectator, and does it require a physical gesture? What kind of physical gesture? And within that, can you be a participant with something by also usurping and disseminating your experience of a later date?”
These thoughts led him to what DMA Hoffman Family Senior Curator of Contemporary Art Gavin Delahunty and Beasley called Beasley’s most ambitious project yet, and the pivotal role engagement will play in it.
“What if there was a work that prompted this sort of engagement, where your actions have implications and can actually change the way the person next to you in experiencing the space and the work?” Beasley said.
And in a museum, where it is often taboo to touch artwork, why allow visitors to actually sit on the floor cushions and contribute in that way?
“To have some kind of exchange,” Beasley said. “I think when anyone walks into a room, your presence has implications and there’s consequences to them. How subtle it is is really the difference, but I think there’s a possibility for you, or someone who is present, to have more control over what that is, and then maybe that could make one aware of their own actions.”
Delahunty posited that “we listen to obtain information, and we listen to understand, we listen for enjoyment, and we listen to learn.” For Beasley, the learning aspect is key to the experience.
“When I’m listening, I have this deep interest in observing and understanding,” Beasley said. “It goes back to the way that I’m approaching my art practice. To listen to something is to really understand the context that I’m in, or to glean as much from what I am experiencing.”
Beasley hopes that audiences are just as present as possible, not necessarily passive nor active in the exhibit, so that they may gain the full experience.
“There is something I’m accumulating here, but maybe now is not the time to unpack everything,” Beasley said. “There are a lot of reactions and responses, and I think ideally what I would want in terms of listening is to just be aware of the context, and that the listening that you’re doing is much more than your ears. It’s about the position of your body, and recognizing the space that you’re in, and that in that moment, there is an experience of one particular kind.”
Delahunty remarked that “we’ve been attacking the original, decomposing the original, and it’s about the triumph of the copy,” as we send out information into the world. Beasley agreed with that, but saw those bits of info as holding significant cultural and historical reference, while also presenting it in a completely different way.
“You have this experience of memory, like a trigger where you recognize what that is and then you have this experience of listening to that anew,” Beasley said.
Beasley’s exhibition has made a statement in the art world, and Delahunty called it “very contemporaneous” of him.
“There are artists like you who are making art that punctures this notion of value and of control, and it’s about an emancipation of the institution, breaking it down and probing it in an interesting way,” Delahunty said. “You’ve thrown down a very particular gauntlet in the institution.”
» We have a complete schedule in our Soluna Festival special section on TheaterJones. Look for features and previews during the Soluna Festival in our special section. For more information, such as ticket prices, visit mydso.com/solunafestival