"Sensing," by Shih-Wen and Jiayi Young, is part of the "Seeing Sound" exhibition at the Pence Gallery. Courtesy photo

"Sensing," by Shih-Wen and Jiayi Young, is part of the "Seeing Sound" exhibition at the Pence Gallery. Courtesy photo


New exhibit at Pence Gallery plays with ‘Seeing Sound’

By From page A3 | March 07, 2012

Recently, I read an article about a famed violinist from Germany who saw bright colors when she played specific musical passages. Diagnosed with synesthesia, where one sense involuntarily triggers a response in another sense, she saw this condition as actually improving her musical performances.

While synesthesia is a relatively rare phenomenon, the idea of representing music visually has a long history. Building upon Davis’ well-established love of music, I came up with the concept of “Seeing Sound.”

Opening Friday and on view through April 15 at the Pence Gallery, 212 D St., “Seeing Sound” unveils new paintings, sculpture, installations and video that meld sound and music with art. The exhibit offers a highly interactive experience, featuring innovative work by seven artists and musicians from the Sacramento region, requiring visitors to look, play and listen, ultimately offering a space where the line between sound and visual art is blurred.

Inspired by the rhythm and color of specific songs and musicians, Dean Moniz creates found object sculptures out of musical parts, cord, wire and bits of toys. His abstract paintings harken back to Mondrian’s jazz-inspired painting, “Broadway Boogie Woogie.”

A vibrant patterning of geometric shapes, pulsing with lively bright colors, create a highly structured rhythm akin to the intensity of John Coltrane’s playing. Visitors can access the original songs that inspired Moniz’s pieces through the use of smart phone QR technology.

“Plexus,” a new video project designed by Rachel Clarke, utilizes compositions created by composer Stephen Blumberg, and is projected so that the viewer becomes part of this looping narrative of repurposed goods. Clarke and Blumberg are professors at Sacramento State University, and their collaboration here suggests a bizarre kind of synthetic ecology.

Likewise, Robin Hill recreates an office cubicle using recycled office equipment, complete with an antiquated filing system. The viewer is invited to manipulate the equipment, producing a series of sounds produced by Sam Nichols.

Nichols and Hill are professors of music and art, respectively, and their installation brings to mind the work of John Cage, a fitting reference given the 100th anniversary of his birth this year.

Artists Jiayi and Shih-Wen Young’s giant camera obscura (think pin-hole camera) is made out of recycled cardboard boxes. When viewers walk inside the darkened space, they will uncover the magic of perception, as actions outside the gallery trigger not only images, but passages of sound recorded by M. Azevedo.

Related work by the Youngs includes an interactive painting titled “Fandango,” using a composition by musician Stephen Thompson, and an installation that explores the impact of sound waves on water of various hues.

Shih-Wen Young is a professor of physics at American River College, and Jiayi Young is a professor of art there; thus, their work blends the two disciplines of art and science quite seamlessly.

The exhibit is sponsored by Tom Doyle and Kathy Joseph, with support from Dick and Joy Dorf. The Pence is hosting a series of three artist talks on April 1 beginning at 2:15 p.m., that will allow people to hear directly from the artists (and musicians) what inspired their work. Please stop by.


This spring, Advanced Placement art students at Davis and Da Vinci high schools heard a series of talks by professionals in the art field. I spoke to the students about curating exhibits; UC Davis professor emeritus Malaquias Montoya talked about being a socially engaged artist and professor. The Pence’s own Chris Beer coached the students in how to create a cohesive exhibit of their paintings, drawings and ceramic sculpture, and professor Chris Daubert led a critique of their individual works of art.

The resulting exhibit, through March 25, is completely organized by the students and includes some amazing examples of creativity. This project was sponsored by the Davis School Arts Foundation and led by teachers Lynette Diem and Seana Burke. Their reception is also from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, so be sure to see our young artists and congratulate them.


Our Spring Tea is scheduled for Monday, March 19, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the Pence. I’ll tour visitors through the “Seeing Sound” exhibit, and offer an overview of the connection between art and music.

Afterward, guests may join us for a spot of tea or coffee, fruits, breads and delicious cupcakes from ciocolat in our galleries. All visitors will receive special discounts and a gift bag. The cost is $18 general or $14 for Pence Gallery members. RSVP by March 17 to (530) 758-3370.

— Natalie Nelson is executive director and curator of the Pence Gallery. Her column is published monthly.

Natalie Nelson

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