A Collaboration of Sights and Sounds

Story by Brent Owen

If you haven’t been to Huff Gallery recently, you should make a point to visit in the next two weeks. The gallery, located on the lower level of Spalding University’s library, is hosting a new art installation called “A Brief Elaboration of a Tube.” The piece is a collaboration between two cherished Louisville artists: Aaron Rosenblum and Letitia Quesenbery.

“A Brief Elaboration of a Tube” is further exploration of a show Quesenbery previously displayed called “Hyperspace.” That exhibit featured several lightboxes in various shapes and sizes, each examining how light and color moves and utilizes space.

Aaron Rosenblum. Photo by John Nation.

“I saw what she did with ‘Hyperspace,’” said Rosenblum, a local audio artist. “Immediately I started hearing sounds in my head.” The two later met through mutual friends, and she agreed to let him create sounds for her lightboxes. Unfortunately, they got distracted and their first proposed project fell by the wayside. That was until Joyce Ogden, director of Huff Gallery, knocked on Aaron’s door. “When she offered me the space,” Rosenblum said, “it seemed like the perfect opportunity for us to finally do something.” Once Quesenbery was on board, the two artists went to work.

For Rosenblum, putting together a new audio piece meant combing through his archive of field-recordings, which are short bits of audio he has recorded over the years. Each clip captured a brief moment in time – a passing car, a chirping bird or a crying baby. And like any great song, when wielded by a capable artist they can capture the listener’s imagination.

The piece he made for “A Brief Elaboration of a Tube,” has a droning hum at the center of the collage. “There’s nothing digital in there,” Rosenblum said. “It’s all live field-recordings I’ve done over the years. The drone is actually a combination of two sounds. The first is a chemical plant in the West End. It just puts out this low ominous drone all of the time. The other is my bathroom air vent. It was closed one day and was whistling in this really interesting way, so I recorded it.”

He then adds texture to the piece by piling layers of other sounds, “I was trying to obscure clarity; give you some stimulus but not let you quite interpret it yet.” Which is where a passing train on the C.S.X. line in Old Louisville or a pile driver from NuLu fit into the mix.

Letitia Quesenbery. Photo by Sarah Lyon.

Even Sandhill Cranes made it into the final piece. “They make a very long migration,” he explains. “And they always stop in Cecilia, Kentucky, which is where I recorded them. I’m telling you they make a bonkers sound – like geese on hallucinogenic drugs.”

Rosenblum was born and raised in Konah, New York. “I’m the only New Yorker who has moved to Louisville twice,” he said. “I have no idea if it’s true but I like to say it.” He first moved to Louisville after graduating from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. He eventually left to study at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. While there, he met his wife Andrea Jane Cornell, who happens to be an audio artist in her own right. It was Andrea who first inspired him to incorporate his field recordings into the art itself. And in 2013 Rosenblum returned to Louisville, taking a job as an archivist with the Filson Club.

While Rosenblum is a Louisville import (two times over), Quesenbery is a Louisville native through and through. Her mother was a local artist and grade school art teacher, a fact that initially led Quesenbery to resist the path of an artist. “My mom always told me I was good and should keep drawing, but I had no interest,” Quesenbery said. It was while attending Sacred Heart Academy that she could no longer deny that the artist’s life was calling. “Junior year is when it stopped being something that I was supposed to do and became something I loved,” she said. Her work has long been a cornerstone in the Louisville art scene, and has been shown at 21c and The Speed Museum. She has even done scenic design for two productions at Louisville Ballet. And Quesenbery isn’t simply a local treasure; her work has shown both nationally and internationally.

“I’m into visual ambiguity, or ambiguity in general really,” Quesenbery said. “I like to, in a subtle way, destabilize perception. That is really how I approach everything I do. So with this I wanted to make something like the lightboxes, but this time dimensional.” She went to work in her Portland area studio. There she began constructing what she imagined a three-dimensional version of her lightbox would look like.

In the end, “A Brief Elaboration of a Tube” is a large scale installation that takes up about a quarter of the gallery floor. At the core of the exhibit is a circular lightbox that undulates with various swirling colors. Large concentric circles thrust outward from the lightbox into the gallery space. Hidden light strips splash swaths of color against the outreaching circles. Everything is bathed in white, so light has complete freedom to move and spread at will. All the while, Rosenblum’s looped tracks swing from soothing to unsettling, and reach the perfect hauntingly urban crescendo for the overall experience.

“A Brief Elaboration of a Tube” will remain in the Huff Gallery until Feb. 11. This Friday, Feb. 2, the gallery will host a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. with both Rosenblum and Quesenbery so guests can meet the artists and discuss their work. VT