Artist Proof: Constructing The Sacred, A Conversation with Sound Sculptor Kate Lee Short

by Anja Ulfeldt on June 15, 2015

Cease is Basement Gallery Oakland’s second exhibition since the artist run space reopened in May. Using wood forms augmented with audio transducers, this site-specific work is engaged in lengthy dialogue with the humming, rumbling industrial neighborhood in which it is located. As gallery director, my curatorial mission is to showcase emerging talent and never before seen work that demonstrates sincere devotion and rigorous pursuit of discovery. I sat down with Kate for a conversation about her multisensory installation and her artistic practice at large.

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Upon entering the intimate space of Kate Lee Short’s installation the visitor is immediately trapped between two worlds. The feeling is somewhere between internal and external, the physical vs. the divine. While developing her current body of work the artist is often inspired by the architecture and acoustics of scared spaces. Describing the acoustics of churches and cathedrals she says, “These spaces are built as the embodiment of god. I think a lot about how being in places of such power can take over all of your senses in a way that everything else drops away and you’re’ naked in front of something that is much greater than yourself.”

A blue coating reminiscent of stained glass covers the large industrial window of the Gallery casting a deeply saturated almost sci-fi tone over the artwork. Crafted with a particular strain of minimalist fanaticism, a grid of matte black panels lines the perimeter of the gallery as an authoritative thick black column, also paneled, stands in the center of the room inviting circumambulation. At no time is the visitor’s body far from these humming alien surfaces, which both emit sound and absorb the daylight.

An earlier work, The Interstice was constructed from a carefully curated collection of individual speakers that formed a c-shaped enclosure with high, impenetrable walls. This work produced low frequency noise designed to interact with the resonance of the space to create pockets of relative comfort and alternatively, discomfort in specific areas of the room. Kate explains, “I choose the tones with relationship to how they effect our senses. In The Interstice I used 19 hertz because it is said to make people feel there is a ghostly presence in the room.”

Embodying an aesthetic of authority reminiscent of wood wall paneling usually found in civic buildings such as courthouses and post offices, the sound activated walls ebb and flow with tonal undulation. When creating the composition for Cease, Short further explored relationships between pure tones, also known as sine tones, which are electronically generated signals with a sinusoidal waveform. Using combinations of overlapping sine tones Kate has created a shifting moving composition of both audible and inaudible sound intended to bring the viewer into the present moment though a physical intervention of sound in space. “I am working with single sine tones creating a tension between dissonance and harmonics within the space. I started the composition for this piece by working in multiples of 19hz, so for example 19 times 5 or 95hz. Then I added other frequencies to create a sense of both discord and harmony depending on your position in the space.”

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Kate Short is drawn to sound for its ability to provoke durational experience and the potential for interruption of perceived architecture. Recent installations have moved away from using speakers as building blocks and toward constructing unique sculptural forms that themselves become the speakers using custom audio components. These solemn constructions of worship produce sound in such a way that it is often more felt than heard, allowing the installation to interact directly with the senses. Short says of these works “You could cover your ears but I’m using low frequencies that are felt by the by your body, just by physically being in the space, the sound is effecting you.”

Kate Short’s artwork has an evolving relationship to architecture, human perception and social space. These influences are apparent in her new work as she continues to scale up and reinvent her sculptural installations. Short explains “There’s a lot of thinking in architecture around how spaces either hold you, push you out of them, draw you in or make you act or feel a certain way. I’m interested in bringing attention to small transcendent moments where the physical and sonic architecture of a space draws you in and can flip your relationship to a particular space in a way that carries over into the rest of our life. It’s like we take in the energy of the spaces that we’re in and then we carry that to other spaces that we go to, not only physically but mentally and emotionally as well. I think of making this work as creating a portal into seeing and experiencing the world in a totally different way.”

Kate Lee Short, Cease will be on view at Basement Gallery Oakland, 1027 3rd Street Oakland through July 3rd.