CHROMOGRAPHY: WRITING IN COLOR
Translating communication symbols & systems into color, sound and objects
Rowan University Art Gallery presents Chromography: Writing in Color, a two-person exhibition examining concepts of translation and symbol-based communication, from March 23 – May 9. A reception on Thursday, April 9 from 5:00 – 8:00 p.m. features an artist’s talk beginning at 6:00 p.m. to include a performance of excerpts from musical translations represented in the exhibit.
Artists Melinda Steffy and Gerard Brown explore concepts of translation and symbol-based communication in their work. Starting with different sets of symbols—Steffy with music and Brown with writing—both artists have developed systems for translating distinct methods of communication into visual artworks. Written texts, then, rely on color and pattern to be understood. Music, usually experienced as linear and time-based, can be seen all at once, in immediate spatial configurations.
Gerard Brown explores the intersection of seeing and reading, often by employing codes that do not—at first glance—resemble writing. Brown employs a script of nautical signal flags arranged according to traditional “tumbling block” pattern similar to quilting patterns. The tumbling block pattern is a powerful optical illusion that creates the feeling of three-dimensional space on a flat plane. This illusion offers an analog to the ways writing can be confused with speech. Unlike most other forms of writing, signal flags rely on color to communicate their message and are easily confused with one another if color is absent. Converting the common alphabet into a patterned array of color reveals idiosyncratic instances in language, as letterforms repeat and combine into new shapes and arrangements.
Steffy explores congruent patterns by translating compositions by J.S. Bach and Béla Bartók into watercolor paintings on paper. In her translations, each of the notes of the chromatic scale corresponds with a hue on the color wheel; as the music progresses through the key signatures, the paintings’ color schemes shift. Notes and rhythms are plotted on a grid to show intrinsic tonal and rhythmic structures. The subtle irregularity of the hand-painted squares and watercolor pigments captures a sense of tone variation similar to a live performance.
A central element of this exhibition is “The Hours,” an elaborate experiment in translation that moves messages from writing to music to image. Working with Solresol, a language created from the seven notes of the musical scale, Brown translated short literary descriptions of times of day into brief melodies that chime at the hours they describe. For example, a passage about the end of the day from Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” becomes a lonely, meandering melody for brass ensemble. Each tune was then re-scored by Steffy, using the system she invented to represent Bach compositions. Several of these visualizations are installed on the gallery windows as decals, and each of them sounds at its designated time in the public space outside the gallery.