The Perry Rubenstein Gallery in Manhattan currently houses a sculpture by Diana Al-Hadid titled “Record of a Mortal Universe” (2007). The work is characteristic of Syrian-born, Ohio-based Al-Hadid: a freestanding set piece that serves as a fantastic vision of an impossible instrument. True to form, it is just shy of nightmarish.
The sculpture, pictured here, shows steps leading to a distant architectural crown, and beneath those steps are the spindly pedals of some strange organ. Where an organ might have pipes, this one instead houses a massive, ornate gramophone. The gallery describes the work as a “narrative object.”
The lasting impression is several-fold: of the fragile pedals beneath decaying steps; of the gramophone that allows light to pass through like a Tiffany lamp; of the way that the gramophone’s horn narrows to a point, and how at the place where the needle that results from that point might make contact with a record, the grooves of the record look more like ripples, ripples that the point effects upon the surface of a thick, dark water that is frozen in time.
It’s not entirely clear if that those ripples (pictured below) are, indeed, concentric circles or the single, inwardly spiraling groove of a proper acetate or vinyl recording, but the suggested conflation is classically surreal.
Documentation provided by the gallery describes some of Al-Hadid’s intended narrative:
Rather than playing a record, the gramophone simulates the playing of fictive sounds of water ripples (sound waves) made by the fall of the hero from the top of the stairs. The illustrious gramophone is left to capture and echo the conjured sounds of the protagonist’s demise.That reference to a “hero” seems at odds with how silent, how devoid of life aside from the allowance made by the piece’s title, the sculpture “Record of a Mortal Universe” appears to be — much like “Portal to a Black Hole,” the piece the artist had in the “Agitation and Repose” group show at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery earlier this year (see disquiet.com, August 25, 2007).
“Mortal Universe” is on view from October 19 through November 24, and when I stopped by Perry Rubenstein earlier this week and inquired of the gallery representative if Al-Hadid ever makes pieces that actually emit sounds, pieces that make music, she said not that she’s aware of. And then she added, “You know, nearly everyone asks that.” (More information at perryrubenstein.com.)