Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Alternative Space: Greg Garvey

City-Wide Open Studios
50 Orange St., New Haven, (203) 772-2709
Alternative Space: Greg Garvey
Oct. 28-29, 2006.

Greg Garvey touched the iMac's spacebar. Music began to play. From this seed of inspiration, Garvey constructed a site-specific installation in the band room of the old Hamden Middle School. Entitled "Requiem for a school left behind," the multi-media presentation encompassed more than a dozen iMacs, music stands and empty chairs. Hamden Middle School was closed when it was revealed that the school—as well as nearby low income housing—had been built on contaminated land.

The iMac had initially been abandoned next to the teacher's desk. It was covered with dust when Garvey first entered the room. It must have been left on when the school was abandoned. It was in "sleep" mode. The touch of the spacebar "woke" it up. A compact disc, Collaborations, had been left in the computer. The disc featured music recorded by students in the New Haven arts magnet schools program: jazz ensembles, choral groups, gospel singers. Jazz filled the air.

Garvey scavenged a half dozen or so more iMac's from the school premises and borrowed more from Quinnipiac University, where he teaches. He arrayed them in two rows on the orchestra risers, with the more dependable machines up front. On the third and top row, almost three dozen stands in various states of disrepair, each displaying one blank sheet of musical notation paper. Three rows of folding chairs sit vacant on a single riser facing the orchestra.

Music played in all the computers simultaneously, out of sync. From Collaborations, Garvey made a mix CD and loaded that into six of the iMacs. (He was apologetic that he did not know the names of the performers: "I always like to acknowledge my sources. I don't have my hands on that.") Six other computers were loaded with a piano/voice instruction disc that Garvey had found in a desk drawer. And six played the built-in metronome.

Garvey considered the presence of gospel music on the Collaborations disc fortuitous. There is a phrase in one of the songs—"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do"—that he felt was apropos to the fate of the school.

"The people who chose to site the school here, and low income housing, were criminals," he said. He said a friend, who once taught at the school, told him that a principal and assistant principal had both died of cancer.

Additionally, Garvey used a digital camera to create a computer-oriented visual element. He shot 800 photos throughout the exterior and interior of the school. With these he made four 200-image slide shows that played continually on the screens.

"With the photos, I tried to get a feel for the sense of abandonment," Garvey told me.

Standing in the room, I heard a multiphonic interplay. Move toward one computer and the gospel choir became prominent. Move in another direction and the syncopated sophistication of a surprisingly accomplished jazz group set the groove. The instruction disc became a background noise.

And then there was the ever-present electro-chirp of the metronome. The building block of rhythm, the foundation. The metronome was a symbol of time, as the installation was a memorial to time past. And as I spent time with it, the intrusion of the metronome became more insistent, like an alarm in the hallway. The din conjured up ghosts, of the physical space, of the sounds of students and teachers.

As I meditated on the piece, Garvey was engaged in loading one last sound file onto one of the iMacs.

"It's times like these that I become really appreciative of the evolution of technology," he said. "Like everything, it takes ten steps and these machines are really slow."


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