The name of Debra Weisberg’s installation at Southern New Hampshire University’s McIninch Art Gallery is “Cannot Be Determined in Advance.” With a name like this, it’s arguably impossible to describe the show before experiencing it in person.
But here’s an attempt.
It looks like dark, organic matter, seeping through the floor and walls of the tiny gallery, a blend of chaos and order, but with no real shape or form. It’s made from a variety of materials, like rice paper, tape, camping foam mats, twigs, acrylic paint, cheesecloth and wire dipped in pulp and then coated in sand. Her work is rooted in abstractionism, and even though the sculpture is twisted and layered and textured, there’s a fluidity about it. Each detail is deliberate.
Weisberg’s goal is to get viewers to experience her art, not think about it. It’s why she recruited saxophonist, flautist and composer Ken Field to create a sound component to accompany the artwork, coating the SNHU gallery Feb. 23 through April 2.
“With music, you don’t always have to use language. Visual art is always embedded in words,” Weisberg said during an interview at the gallery, just over a week before the opening reception. “The first thing people say [at a gallery] is ‘What does this mean?’ And people don’t do that with music. They just allow it to enter them.”
Another reason to incorporate music was to promote active looking.
“I noticed that whenever there’s a more performance-based environment, people quiet down,” she said. “Sound … holds people’s attention in all the senses but not through language. And that’s always been of interest to me. How do I allow my artwork to [offer] an experience, like that people have when they listen to music?”
At this point, Weisberg, a Boston-based artist who teaches at the New England School of Art and Design at Suffolk University and Boston College, was in the beginning stages of installing her sculpture and anticipated it would take all week. Field was adjusting his contribution to the space, which he described as a composition made up of layered sounds, from saxophone notes to abstract noises, like air blowing through the instrument.
“It has two separate loops of music that are different lengths, and throughout the course of the day, they’ll shift in respect to each other,” Field said. “They reflect on the artwork and the discussions I had with Debra about her thoughts on the work.”
Weisberg has shown artwork around the world, and Facebook Boston recently commissioned her to create an 18-foot-long tape installation for its corporate Cambridge office. She has twice attended the MacDowell Colony. This is her third iteration of this installation.
Gallery Director Debbie Disston said it’s the fifth year she’s opened the gallery to established artists to use the space as a platform to install site-specific work.
“It’s a great opportunity to give an established artist the opportunity to take risks, to do something new or maybe build upon an idea that’s been percolating for awhile,” Disston said.