Nathaniel Stern on Sounding in the New Materiality exhibition at MAM

Professor Nathaniel Stern the Head of Digital Studio Practice in the Department of Art+Design at the  Peck School of the Arts of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee wrote an interesting review of the New Materiality Exhibition currently on view at the Milwaukee Art Museum. You can read the whole review here. And here’s his thoughts on Lawrence LaBianca’s and my piece Sounding.

” The exhibition can perhaps best be summarized through the work of the four exhibiting artists/artist teams that spoke at the “Dialogues on Innovation” panel at the Milwaukee Art Museum on April 16th. Collaborative artists Donald Fortescue and Lawrence LaBianca, for example, spoke to Milwaukee activist and printmaker Nicholas Lampert about their piece, Sounding. This work consists of a huge, custom built cabriole-legged table, which was initially filled with beach rocks and sunk to the bottom of the ocean. There it lay, for two months, with a hydrophone to record the ambient sounds of the sea, including the overwhelming swish of waves, the low hum of slow-moving current, and the activity of sea life – the most prominent being the continuous clicks of what must be shrimp in its vicinity. When the artists’ creation reemerged, it brought the bottom of the ocean with it: all the messiness and stink and poetry of the sea – barnacles, rusty parts, plant life, fish scents, mystery and more. It is exhibited with an over sized hornlike funnel, a huge phonograph tied together with zip ties, to amplify the recorded sound.

Sounding, avowedly inspired by Captain Ahab’s hunt for an un-killable whale, acts as a kind of parallel to the ongoing hunt for singular disciplinary focus in craft. The piece dives into the sea, hits “rock bottom,” and looks as if it barely survived; and on its return, we see that Sounding is far from a singular entity. Yes, it is trashed and torn, but it’s also imbued with literal life, entwined with technical innovation, and rich with stories of its journeys. Like the theories and practices behind the current craft movements, it came back more beautiful, more visceral, more sensory, and more technological than it ever was: a new materiality.”


  1. I hadn’t thought about the piece that way, and I have to agree, although it also presents a tidy metaphor for Stern’s point of view about ‘craft’. I’ll have to read the entire review before I say anything more. Meanwhile, congrats Donald and Lawrence!


  2. Glenn Adamson May 17, 2011 at 11:59 pm

    Thanks Donald, nice to see this – I have been thinking about writing a little piece on the use of zip ties in contemporary art, and I see that Stern mentions them twice in this review. There were loads of them in evidence in ‘Undone,’ a recent show at the Henry Moore Foundation in Leeds. Any thoughts about why artists are going for them as a fastening method? They are very conspicuous in Sounding.


    1. Glenn.
      Aaahh, zipties! They are so cool. First, they are cheap, quick, very targeted and powerful little clamping devices. They are also really fun to use! Apart from that they accumulate in a really interesting way. They have a direction to them, like the hairs on your arm, so that when they are aligned they give a strong directionality and provide an appearance of a living creature – we used this effectively in Sounding where the zipties mimic the cilia of some oceanic creature. And finally they are ‘readymades’, appropriated from industrial technology for use as art – the taste of the readymade is always welcome when cooking.


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