look, listen, touch, loveEssay by Rachel Arauz for How Deep Is Your Exhibition Catalog, 2012
In 2004, Julianne Swartz invented a communication device to facilitate contact between passing pedestrians and the occupants of the Sunshine Hotel, a shelter facility for economically disadvantaged men in lower Manhattan. Commissioned by the New Museum in advance of their anticipated move into the neighborhood, the structure's twenty-nine feet of bright yellow tubing, bent and rigged with mirrors and Plexiglas, invited curious viewers to look and speak into one end, in the hope of a friendly exchange with a resident on the second ﬂoor of the hotel. Participants at either end could hear one another as well as see a slightly distorted, inverted image of the other's face. Can You Hear Me? is one of many works in Swartz's career that employ participant-generated sound. With this sculpture, however, Swartz embraced not only the involvement of art-lovers, as well as any inquisitive passerby, but also made the success of their engagement contingent on the willingness of a potentially marginalized individual, safe in his own private space, to communicate in return. She made the success of the work contingent on kindness.
Residents of the Sunshine Hotel were initially apprehensive about hosting the work and potentially being required to converse with strangers. Swartz's own generous spirit in proposing the sculpture proved convincing. A few men, in particular, were enthusiastic about uncapping the ends of the device each morning, and enjoyed maintaining the bright arrangements of sunﬂowers the artist brought for the common room table each week. Swartz recalled that she sought to achieve "a simultaneous distance and intimacy" 1 in the physical connection between the public space of the street and the private space of the hotel, yet she also upended the typical relationship between known and unknown participants by locating control over the exchange with the men in their common room. Passersby had to step out of their urban anonymity and onto the spectacle of a well-marked public platform in order to attempt a conversation, but their efforts would depend upon the willingness of a hotel resident in the mood to chat. The New York Times quoted an art professor who experienced the work: "It ﬂip ﬂops the roles and expectations. I'm looking into their space, but I'm the one who's blushing." 2 The resident took on the speciﬁcity of the dominant actor, sought out by the searching, hopeful voice of a passerby who might have overlooked the entire hotel, never mind its inhabitants, were it not for the installation's distinct visual form. Swartz explained, "the point of the piece is to change the power dynamic of the two parties. I wanted the person on the street to feel a vulnerability, to feel on display as they were speaking.... It's not that the interactions that are exchanged are very deep, but they're face to face, and they're pleasantries. What I made was just a device. The art is the interaction." 3
Can You Hear Me? exempliﬁes many of the characteristics that have come to deﬁne Swartz's practice: the use of sound generated by participants (in the gallery or gathered in the studio to create the ﬁnal work); the importance of participation and collaboration to successfully trigger the work in its ﬁnal presentation; architectural intervention to connect public and private spaces; and the activation of emotions, especially through human exchange. Swartz's career bears the legacy of generations of interactive art, from the subversive projects of Dada and Surrealism to the theoretical engagements of Minimalism and Conceptual art. The formal details of her sculpture and installations, and their relationship to the museum gallery, draw upon important precedents, yet her application of these forms to explore emotional territory distinguishes her work as a new and signiﬁcant interpretation of the gallery visitor's role.
Swartz's implementation of interactivity has embraced many forms. Participants have taken on the role of caretakers in installations such as Link/ Line, 2001. They have served as collaborators in works such as Can You Hear Me? in which the men ritually opened the communication tube each morning and they have contributed vocal recordings for works such as Afﬁrmation, 2007, Terrain, 2008, and Loop, 2010. Swartz also invites gallery visitors to handle, listen and look— often in unconventional museum spaces. More subtly, her work employs them as spectators of interactivity, a less considered version of participation, yet one often crucial to the complete experience of some of her sculptures. These modes of interactivity combine with Swartz's skillful transformation of simple, industrial materials to engage viewers with their own emotional history as well as the formal traditions of participatory art.
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Interactive art and installation art became deﬁnable ﬁelds of practice in the late twentieth century and have prompted a vast body of scholarly literature. Art historian Claire Bishop has suggested that the rise of structuralist theory in the 1970s, and its advocacy of a subjective reader (or viewer), opened the door for a fully embodied viewer with the authority to experience and interpret works of art distinct from any primacy assumed for the artist. 4 This release from the certainty of a single originary viewpoint inspired artists to create experiential environments with open-ended meanings, often dependent on viewer-participants for completion and sometimes transformed by them over time. Moreover, French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty's writings on phenomenology, which were published in English in the early 1960s, provided a language to articulate the palpable space between viewer and object: "every perception is a communication or a communion, the taking up or completion by us of some extraneous intention or, on the other hand, the complete expression outside ourselves of our perceptual powers and a coition, so to speak, of our body with things." 5 The viewer was now understood to be in dialogue with the object, as much a part of its meaning as the work's own materiality.
Within this context, Minimalism evolved from sculptures placed into the white-box gallery to large- scale objects that activated the gallery space with the intent to immerse, threaten and seduce visitors. Conceptual art reduced painting and sculpture to written lists, published instructions and spoken imperatives, sometimes allowing the "object" to exist only as an idea. Many of the artists associated with these movements sought to challenge the hierarchy of the museum and commercial gallery, moving their practice out of traditional art-world spaces and into the urban and rural landscape. This art could not easily be categorized, documented or collected, and it often welcomed a new level of exchange with viewers outside of the traditional museum environment. Installation art drew upon both Minimalism and Conceptual art to evolve in many directions during the 1980s and 1990s, quickly expanding beyond the theoretical and formal limitations of the earlier movements to reinstate socio-political concerns and narrative content, and enlist overt physical engagement. As museums and galleries began to build a critical armature for the interpretation of installation art, their spaces once again became settings for experimentation.
The ﬁeld of interactive art transcends easy categorization into any speciﬁc movement and encompasses much more than large-scale installations that transform a gallery. The literature testiﬁes to countless efforts by artists throughout the twentieth century to reconnect with their audience.6 Swartz has embraced this project not as an achievable, heroic goal, but rather as an ever- present, variable condition of contemporary art. She has described her practice as one that asks "the viewer to participate in a physical way: Look inside this thing, listen here, stand here, follow this...." 7 I would add to her list of demands: speak here, sing this, listen deliberately, remember something, imagine, whisper, make a choice, share a feeling. Her interactive work often disperses the participatory experience across a large installation, or locates a small physical action in a public arena. Whether in museum-wide networks of pipes, sounds and wires or with small devices for viewer manipulation, the participatory action is always a means to an end. Each work's success lies not in the moment the viewer hears or handles or looks, but rather in the instant he or she perceives the affective, emotional content Swartz seeks to reveal through the physical gesture.
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An anti-Semitic hate crime in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, prompted the commission of Swartz's Link/Line in 2001. For this project, the artist extended a continuous red sewing thread through the landscape and buildings of the affected neighborhood, starting at the Susquehanna Art Museum and ending at the Jewish Community Center. This work would become the ﬁrst in which, as Swartz described, "the participants were as important as the materials." 8 To initiate the project, Swartz sent out an open call to people in the neighborhood. She enlisted ninety- three volunteers at local businesses, religious centers and private homes to watch over the thread as it stretched through their house or ofﬁce. Swartz's proposal for the project referred to the Jewish tradition of an eruv, a symbolic line that delineates an Orthodox community, but she suggested that her thread would instead "act as a connective ﬁlament."9 If the thread broke, its caretakers would be obliged to tie it back together in order to maintain the continuous connection. The delicate string was nearly invisible as it traveled through the urban setting, yet its bright red color was chosen to distinguish it from the cement grays and pale greens of the early spring landscape. The sanguine hue created a thin line-drawing, a vein, through the community, impossible to see in its entirety, but nevertheless quietly animating small details of fences, ﬁre hydrants and bushes.
Swartz's four-and-a-half mile thread through the public space of sidewalks, streets, parks and community buildings, as well as the internal space of people's homes, established on a large scale her interest in intervening upon architecture to provoke a psychological effect in her work. Her use of thread recalls the Greek myth of Theseus, who used a ball of red string to ﬁnd his way to safety out of the Minotaur's maze. Swartz's placement of the thread through both public and private spaces activated the work anew in each location. Not only was the thread vulnerable to different levels of interest and care at each interior venue, but viewers also had varying levels of access from building to building. Unlike Theseus, who found a clear path out of the labyrinth with his string, individuals interested in following Swartz's thread from beginning to end had to seek the hospitality of each host. The work of art could not be fully experienced without a mutual extension of trust on the part of both visitor and host, reenacting the exchange that Swartz initiated when she ﬁrst placed the thread.
Although its overtly political and religious underpinnings make this work unusual in Swartz's career, Link/Line introduced the possibility of conveying highly charged emotional content with the most minimal and fragile of materials. Swartz mused about her use of thread to convey a concept as broad and powerful as community: "You have a thought. What can be a material representation of that thought? A thin piece of thread seemed to me to be just this side of the materiality of a thought." 10 Despite breakage and potentially inattentive caretakers, the thread managed to assert its symbolic power for the ﬁve weeks it remained installed. Swartz's subsequent sculptures and installations have continued to harness the power of ephemeral materials—light, sound, the movement of air and more thread—in concert with the interstitial, unconsidered spaces of architecture. This formal combination of monumental structures and minimal materials results in a visual art that absorbs viewers' senses on many levels, and prompts an expressive engagement unusual in a practice clearly indebted to the emotionally sterile traditions of Minimalism. Indeed, the recognition of Swartz's red thread as a sculptural drawing—available in its entirety only as an idea—might situate the work in relation to Fred Sandback's yarn sculptures that materialized a geometric shape from empty gallery space. Sandback's Minimalist practice was unusual among his contemporaries in his nearly exclusive use of acrylic yarn, a nonindustrial yet utilitarian material with domestic and feminine associations. Yet, Sandback subsumed those references into the creation of pure form. Swartz's thread drawing clearly echoed his model, but the physical environment in which she placed the work prevented the red line from existing as pure form. In fact, as part of the project's documentation, Swartz published a version of her drawing in which she depicted a red line superimposed over a map of the Harrisburg neighborhood. In this context, the reductive elegance of the thread is graphically magniﬁed to convey its symbolic power over a geographic and emotional terrain. Swartz most often alludes to the materials and strategies of her predecessors only to overturn their formalist and philosophical priorities by enlisting the participation of the viewer and reinscribing emotional content on minimal form.
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After decades of a decentered subject, set loose from the primal authority of the artist, Swartz's attention to the role of participants proposes a subtle recentering of the subject. Curator Rudolf Freiling has commented on the paradox inevitable in any attempt to dismantle authorship through the act of making art. Referring to Roland Barthes's seminal 1968 essay "The Death of the Author," he wryly explained, "Despite the demise proclaimed by Roland Barthes, we cannot seem to get rid of the author; the harder we try the stronger the myth returns. Ultimately, if artists wish to operate within the art world, they will inevitably be perceived as the ones responsible for the work, even if they involve collaborators...or court unknown participants." 11 Swartz, a child of the 1970s and a student in the poststructuralist art world, never felt the need to extend the destructive project of her predecessors. Instead, she chose to construct work that insightfully navigates this new territory of shared, collaborative authorship. No longer burdened by centuries of a literal and symbolic single-point perspective, and happy to discover hidden corners within the traditional museum environment, Swartz has found room in the contemporary landscape to meet the viewer halfway. She is not interested in returning to an exclusively artist-generated authority, nor does she hand over the determination of meaning to each subjective, individual viewer. Some of Swartz's work relies on gathering forms of human communication and presenting them in a sculptural context. Other works offer a temporal experience of sound and optics, stretched through galleries and shot through with ruptures in such a way that meaning develops for viewers through ongoing encounters with the work's component parts. In all instances, Swartz relies on deliberate colors, simple materials and alluring structures to entice participants to look, lift or listen. These individual gestures result in small revelations of universal experience. In the aggregate, Swartz generates meaning out of collective experience, folding an ever-widening audience of participants into her own observations about human frailties and aspirations.
How Deep Is Your powerfully manifests the ways in which the artist suggests a single, authorial experience of her work only to diffuse its effect with physical disruptions and spatial ambiguities. Originally conceived in 2003 for the renovated public school interior of MoMA PS1 in Queens, New York, the large-scale installation has been reimagined for the current traveling exhibition. At PS1, hundreds of feet of bright blue plastic tubing extended between the gallery and the otherwise unused basement boiler room two ﬂoors below. In the gallery, a wide blue trumpet suspended at torso-height offered visitors a clear invitation to bend down and into the sculptural form. However, most visitors' ﬁrst encounter occurred in the hallway near the museum's entrance, somewhere in the "middle" of the work. Viewers were prompted to make a choice to follow the blue path that meandered along the walls, through stairwells and tangled among the existing pipes, either into the gallery or downstairs into the boiler room without knowing which direction would lead them to the beginning or end of the work. Adding to the intrigue, attentive listeners discovered leaks in the tubing that emitted fragments of an intermingled mix of two songs: John Lennon's 1970 "Love" and the Bee Gees' 1977 hit "How Deep is Your Love". The tubing conducted the music through the architecture as if the old building itself had a system for dispersing emotional content as well as plumbing and electricity. The Bee Gees' tune describes a speciﬁc relationship of desire, and for many listeners is encoded with the bravado and/or cheesiness of John Travolta's ﬁnal scenes in Saturday Night Fever. Lennon's lyrics are sincere, full of personal longing, and ambitious for greater human connections. His refrain deﬁnes love in many forms: love is touch, asking, reaching, needing, living. Swartz remembered the songs from her childhood and chose them for their combined evocation of private passion and collective tenderness. Although the songs began from separate sources, Swartz's tubing merged the two songs, preventing the listener from choosing just one version of lyrical affection.
The blue trumpet's physical prominence in the gallery implied a culminating, deﬁnitive encounter with the work. Viewers who elected to lean into the trumpet could see themselves in a small mirror at its core and tune out the wider museum space in favor of the immersive sound of both songs. Swartz does not typically require big physical gestures of her participants, yet she rewards their small actions with unexpected details. In this case, viewers confronted their own image at the heart of the work's sonic structure. Despite the formal importance of the bright, open sculptural trumpet, Swartz's arrangement of How Deep Is Your throughout the building denied a single vantage point from which to encounter, visually or aurally, the entire installation. Instead, it insisted upon a constant blend of themes such as sound and sight, public and private, individual and communal. The installation's mix of assertive visual forms with elusive, dispersed sound underscored its physical and conceptual multivalence. Participants could visit unexplored areas to discover familiar and strange spaces, or encounter others experiencing something momentarily different, yet communally similar. The blend of two songs, rather than featuring just one, likewise was intended to prompt a range of memories, emotional responses, distaste or unfamiliarity. Simple and appealing, with its assertive color and playful structure, How Deep Is Your nevertheless insinuated an array of unresolved ambiguities. The work is as much about nostalgia, intrusion, desire and the discovery of self in the hidden mirror as it is about the childlike thrill of exploration.
Artist Charles LaBelle has written about several of Swartz's sculptures and installations, observing that, "her work's phenomenological edge is deceptively candy-coated, wrapped in Mylar and Day-Glo tape." 12 Indeed, Swartz is particularly gifted in her ability to create works that charm viewers with sunny colors, gentle forms, pop music, emotional clichés and simple materials only to reveal a rigorous conceptual underpinning. On the surface, How Deep Is Your is a light-hearted scavenger hunt that invites gallery-goers to investigate hidden museum spaces and discover escaping bits of song as they travel the sky-blue plastic path. The installation's material invasion of the architecture, its blend of acoustic and visual components and its conﬂation of songs, however, propose more complicated themes. In response to How Deep Is Your, LaBelle observed, "There's a quality of innocent wonder at the heart of the work that prevents it from slipping into a morbid, forensic realm. In fact, Swartz plumbs the depths only to instill a little levity: in the ﬁlthy cellar a love song plays.... Her interest is too complex and her vision too attuned to the fact that nothing is ever simply one way or another to rely on easy dichotomies." 13 Swartz's work exploits the tension in these easy dichotomies, captivating viewers with the simple elegance of her physical forms only to agitate and inspire with their quiet revelation of emotional content.
Swartz's acclaimed installation Somewhere Harmony, created for the 2004 Biennial at New York's Whitney Museum of American Art, is perhaps her most literal juxtaposition of an intense spatial experience and overt sentiment. The artist installed twelve hundred feet of clear Plexiglas tubing, occasionally inserting small mirrors and lenses, through the ﬁve-story stairwell of the Whitney's landmark Marcel Breuer building. Speakers embedded in a crawl space at the top of the stairs dispersed an eight-channel soundtrack into eight separate tubes that cascaded down the wall and ended in small, trumpeted openings. At these earpieces, listeners discovered the earnest, recorded voices of sixty-four people singing that 1939 anthem of longing "Over the Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz. This was the ﬁrst work in which Swartz added a separate participatory component in advance of the public presentation. She asked friends, strangers, family members and acquaintances to sing or hum the beloved ballad and recorded their attempts without any polishing. As with all her subsequent works that include recorded volunteers, Swartz's voice is among the singers. The variety of vocal skills is obvious and the effort of some individuals to carry a tune, combined with the wistful lyrics, is almost heartbreaking to hear. Swartz was very clear about seeking this kind of emotional exposure in the work: "When you ask people to sing it makes them vulnerable, and you can respond to that with empathy." 14 By gathering unvarnished, sincere voices into the dim, cement stairwell, by means of a delicate ﬁve-story pipe system, Swartz heightened viewers' perceptions of their own physical and emotional vulnerability.
Swartz's transparent, vertical conduits of sound running through a crowded stairwell recall the elusive sensibility of Michael Asher's 1969 Whitney installation in which alert visitors discovered a column of blown air as they moved between two gallery spaces. Both works risked being overlooked by museum-goers hustling through the transitional spaces of the building, yet both offered sensorial rewards not typically found in the galleries. Somewhere Harmony, however, extended the viewer's experience beyond the physical encounter to provoke a personal, psychological engagement with the disembodied singers as well as the surrounding trafﬁc of the biennial crowds. Swartz carefully composed the individual recordings into a blend of melodic and discordant tones that shifts, separates and intermingles throughout the soundtrack. The voices quietly seeped into the stairwell, creating an ambient hum, yet when visitors stepped up to an earpiece, they heard a lone singer straining with emotion to capture the tune. Swartz explained, "Those private moments were very intentional, because the idea was to make a simultaneous experience of the individual and the collective, and to recognize one's place in that. The idea with those listening points was that you would be having this very private moment.... You would have an intimate experience with another human being, in the midst of the Whitney Biennial, the stairwell crazy with all those people. That's something that I use in my work a lot, the private moment in a very public space." 15 Swartz's orchestration of sound, sculptural form and architectural space enlisted all viewers, whether stopping to listen or passing through, in the activation of the work. Those who chose to pause and investigate the structure stepped into the interstitial space between observer and participant, connecting simultaneously with the distant, aspirational lyrics in one ear and the immediate chaos of their surroundings in the other ear.
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Merleau-Ponty's description of perception as a communication bears signiﬁcantly on Swartz's negotiation of phenomenology as a theoretical underpinning for her work. The very private exchanges enacted over time and location in Swartz's early Link/Line became more literal, instantaneous and physically spectacular a few years later through the yellow periscope of Can You Hear Me? as Swartz continued to push the boundaries of emotional risk and reward in her work. In later works such as Open, 2007, a wooden box that releases verbal affection, and Afﬁrmation, 2006, in which visitors to the Tate Liverpool Museum heard words of encouragement whispered to them from sink drains, air vents and benches, Swartz has quietly continued to explore Merleau-Ponty's communicative moments of perception to reveal broad, universal ideas about simple human emotions. Swartz explained, "It is a goal of my work to ﬁnd a quarter turn on reality, an experience within an experience that gives a different perspective.... I felt like the phenomenological experience wasn't enough, that it needed an emotional dimension, too." 16 For Swartz, the exchange embodied in instances of human communication, and the potential for an emotional response in that moment, drives her interest in making work that invites or requires viewer participation.
Although well known for her installations that invade large museum spaces, Swartz is equally adept at utilizing the smaller scale of free-standing and wall-mounted sculptures to heighten viewers' awareness of their own emotional state and the space around them. In 2004, Swartz began a series of white, tubular sculptures attached to the wall or ﬂoor that she referred to as "participatory scopes." 17 Their distinct formal reference to periscopes made it clear that viewers could approach and look into either end, where they would discover that Swartz's strategic placement of mirrors and lenses within the cylinder enabled them to see a variety of things: the top of their own head, a broad view of the gallery, another person's face split and superimposed over their own. These works recall Brazilian artist Lygia Clark's 1968 work Diálogo-Óculos, two pairs of goggles ﬁtted with mirrors and attached so closely that wearers stood only a few inches from one another as they experienced a fragmented, constrained view of the other's face and sensed the closeness of their bodies. Clark's work functioned within a larger project to engage the human body in essential experiences, yet the physically restrictive nature of the Óculos and her related masks were designed to intensify each wearer's internal dialogue by focusing his or her attention on self-contained sensory encounters. 18 As in her large installations, Swartz's small works enlist participants as both observers and the observed, but unlike Clark, Swartz pursues a collective spatial experience. A person looking into the end of her participatory scope Higher View, 2004, becomes the active viewer; others in the gallery may observe the individual's solo interaction with the sculpture, but they also become the observed, as their movements are seen within the periscope. The roles of observer and observed are cyclical and simultaneous. For Swartz's ﬁrst solo museum publication in 2004, curator Sharon Corwin astutely described the experience of these sculptures as an instance when, "The viewer sees...the act of seeing while their position in space is observed from a detached perspective." 19 The self-referential optical logic of works such as the participatory scopes In-ﬁll- trate, 2004 and Higher View materialize Swartz's "quarter turn on reality" by collapsing this illusion of detachment and revealing, instead, that there are no passive observers.
Observation is key to Swartz's invitation to interact with her work, as she provides no signage directing viewers to touch or look or listen in a particular way. Her 2007 sound-box Open offers one of her most powerful and intimate examples of interactivity. This smoothly ﬁnished, handcrafted wooden box rests on the ﬂoor. Its small size—bigger than a shoebox and smaller than a blanket chest—makes it feel familiar and useful, yet it is not speciﬁc to storing any particular object. The carved recess where the closed, hinged lid meets the box clearly invites viewers to touch the object, despite instincts to avoid such actions in a museum space. This temptation to violate normal behavior immediately establishes the Pandora-esque quality of the interaction—the outcome is deliberately ambiguous. For brave viewers, however, opening the box triggers a whispered deluge of "I love you's" mysteriously emanating from the empty space within. Furthermore, to experience the contents, the viewer must hold open the box. The longer it is held open, the louder the chorus of affection grows from a wide variety of voices, until the viewer is either satiated with love or becomes uncomfortable with the increasingly aggressive attention and silences the box.
Open conceals the technical sources of its sound, and the invitation to interact with the object originates only subtly in its physical form and its imperative title; no projected sound lures the viewer across the gallery. As with Somewhere Harmony, Swartz collected the voices of friends, acquaintances and strangers and instructed them to imagine speaking to a loved one. People of all ages are heard on the recording expressing a variety of emotions from erotic passion, to deep respect, to childlike admiration. Swartz's own voice remains undistinguished from those of the other participants and her particular longing, affection or tenderness claims no primacy. The hidden aspect of the work's emotional force places the viewer, as the recipient of that emotion, in an uncertain position. Without knowing how this affection has come about—who extends it and under what circumstances—the viewer may accept the voices as something unconditional and universal, or silence their smothering intensity. Others in the gallery may observe someone open the box, witness the ﬂood of affection, and then try it themselves or choose to reject the experience altogether. Swartz explained in a 2011 interview, "I wanted to make something that put the viewer in an unusual position. Part of the experience of the box is not knowing if you are allowed to open it. Somehow the sense that maybe you're transgressing something sets the stage for a kind of vulnerability. And in that scenario, when the voices come at you, how do you receive them?" 20 Inevitably, all participants close the box and move away, since that is the nature of visiting objects in a gallery, yet during the extended moment when the sound is active, the participant must consider the meaning of this communication and its potential to extend out into the world.
Vito Acconci's 1972 installation Seedbed similarly drew upon the ambiguities of hidden sound and arousing content. Visitors entered a seemingly empty gallery, but as they walked onto slanted wooden ﬂoorboards, they heard the voice of the artist projected through speakers located in the corners. Acconci himself lay below the ﬂoorboards, vocalizing masturbatory fantasies about the individuals walking above him. If and when visitors realized the nature of the sounds, they had no way to control or stop the erotic musings. Although Acconci's provocative, revolutionary installation may seem an odd point of reference for Swartz's intimate Open, her sculpture's aggressive interior, camouﬂaged in modest form, owes much to the formal and conceptual territory Acconci explored. Both works enlist visitors as the triggers and recipients of an insistent encounter with love. The messiness, immediacy and personal aggression of the early installation, however, is transformed by Swartz into a balanced, elegant exchange between participant and object that strives toward something universal. Her act of gathering voices that express a range of imagined desires—for a lover, a sibling, a parent, a departed friend, a child—diffuses the speciﬁcity of any single version of affection and offers instead a profusion of sentiment meant to transcend the kind of urgent, private need Acconci foregrounded in his work. Moreover, Swartz permits her viewer to control the emotional experience by closing the box. With almost forty years between the two projects, Open exempliﬁes Swartz's commitment to expand the privileged encounters of her predecessors into a collective engagement with fundamental human experiences.
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Swartz has continued to develop new forms of engaging collaborators. In 2008, she undertook a large-scale installation that again combined the use of prerecorded participants and delicate minimal forms to create an immersive aural environment. Terrain is an expansive, horizontal lattice of colored wires, hung with small speakers and spread across the ceiling of an exhibition space. The speakers emit whispers, hums, words of affection, song fragments and sighs, gathered into a soft noise that swirls around the gallery like wind. Viewers feel surrounded by the gentle resonance, yet the speciﬁcity of any single utterance remains elusive. Although Swartz had previously worked with volunteers to record songs, words and sounds, her direction of those recordings was minimal. For Terrain, however, Swartz choreographed her participants, giving detailed instructions for speciﬁc verbal actions, but also inviting them to extend those technical performances into emotive, sensory communications. Thirty-seven volunteers received a typed list of sequential instructions that included directives to "Whisper ‘I love you' for about 1 minute or until the words start to sound like gibberish and lose their meaning" and "Imagine you are whispering into someone's ear. You can imagine anyone who you feel tenderness for (child, lover, mother, father, friend, sister, grandmother...). Whisper whatever you'd like to say to them. Perhaps you are soothing, scolding, seducing, relaxing, annoying, complimenting, caressing, protecting, revealing, cajoling, comforting, defending, persuading, remembering.... When you are ﬁnished, pause for a little while and see if any more thoughts come to you." This extraordinary list of commands was meant to encompass the broad range of human emotions felt in small exchanges almost daily throughout our lives. The conversation between Swartz and her volunteers, enacted through an emotionally instructional list, suggests the importance of each participant's highly personal contribution. Similar to her earlier works, Terrain assembled a great variety of intimate, personal communications in order to transform that content into a collective emotional outpouring. For the 2011 presentation of Terrain at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, curator Megan Lykins Reich wrote, "Swartz captures sounds that we consider private, those words or phrases we reserve for our most intimate relationships.... Disembodying these personal recordings from source and time is central to Swartz's conceptual practice. When inserted into public spaces, the private sentiments lose their original purpose and connect directly with the listener, becoming formal artistic elements for interpretation." 21 Standing beneath the web of Terrain's speakers and colored wire, it is nearly impossible to catch more than a fragment of anyone's seductive, cajoling, protective words, and it is easy to be lulled by the overall sense of affection. Knowledge of Swartz's precise directions, however, upends the dynamic between the private moments implicit in the individual recordings and their collective, disembodied public presentation. The work's power lies in Swartz's ability to invest the sound with tremendous personal signiﬁcance, even as she subsumes that intimate expression in a larger, atmospherically emotional form.
Two important precedents for instructional, participatory art lie at the heart of the art-historical legacy Swartz navigates and redeﬁnes so successfully. In addition to being a large-scale sound installation generated in part through Swartz's instructional component, Terrain is also a spectacular drawing of colored lines suspended in the air. Sol LeWitt's Wall Drawing #65 is a work that exists as an instruction to be executed by the artist or others: "Lines not short, not straight, crossing and touching, drawn at random using four colors, uniformly dispersed with maximum density, covering the entire surface of the wall." The resultant drawing is surprisingly similar to Terrain's chromatic network of wires, and in both works the massing of color and line is intended to be visually encompassing and meditative. LeWitt's restrained, technical instructions are meant to generate form, and incorporate variation and subjectivity only as a consequence of the drawing's manual execution by his assistants. Swartz's instructions function almost as a conversation with her volunteers, generating content out of the shared memories and emotions she provoked in the dialogue. LeWitt's instructional wall drawings marked a seminal moment in the undoing of authorship and the primacy of the conceptual act over the physical form. Terrain neither disavows authorship nor foregrounds subjectivity, and Swartz carefully balances her conceptual aims with the work's delicate physical form. The instructional component is fundamental to Terrain's creation, but Swartz embeds the subjectivity of that process in an aesthetic structure purposefully crafted to capture the visual attention of her audience. The formal beauty of the work becomes the conduit for exchange between the collective voices of her recorded participants and the collective reception of her gallery audience.
Yoko Ono's early instructional art, best known through her 1964 publication Grapefruit, provides perhaps the most resonant touchstone for Swartz's interactive practice. Ono's brief commands invited participants to engage in simple, sometimes absurd, physical gestures as a means of expanding their awareness of human interaction. Her instructions, in the form of written directives or implied actions, function in a manner similar to Swartz's Terrain instructions, or the subtle physical cues implicit in works such as Open or Somewhere Harmony. For both artists, the interactive aspect of their practice has been driven by their desire to engage the humanity of their viewers. Swartz's objects and installations are much more sensuous, playful and grand than Ono's often austere works, yet both artists have incorporated a level of optimism and sincerity in their art that is unusual in the contemporary art world. In a 2005 interview, Swartz described one of Ono's pioneering works from 1966, Ceiling Painting (YES Painting): "I think about that Yoko Ono piece with the ladder—you climb up the ladder, and you ﬁnd a magnifying glass, and you use it to look at a little word on the ceiling, which says ‘Yes.' I love that piece. I've never seen it. I don't feel like I need to see it, because I already feel like I have my own experience of that piece, just to think about it, just to consider it." 22 Similar to Swartz's soundbox Open, Ono's YES Painting eschews any overt directions to the viewer, offering only the ladder's implied invitation to act; the magnifying glass further encourages the curious observer with the suggestion that something must be visible only through its use. Individuals who have not ever seen or engaged Open might nevertheless be able to imagine its immersive effect in much the same way that Swartz described her affection for YES Painting without ever having seen Ono's work in a gallery. The idea of a chorus of "I love you's" emanating from the box, an endless resource to be mined again and again, is a concept almost anyone can imagine and, much like the single word "yes," Open's message is one of such simplicity that it distills the essence of human experience.
John Lennon recalled his own interaction with YES Painting, describing how happy he was to discover encouragement at the top of the ladder, rather than the "smash the piano with a hammer and break-the-sculpture ... boring negative crap" that he saw elsewhere in the 1960s art world. 23 Lennon's enthusiasm for the optimism he found in his future wife's artwork brings us back to Swartz's early installation How Deep Is Your, where a gentle ballad by Lennon mingles with the disco beat of a Bee Gees' hit and seeps into the atmosphere from leaks in the bright blue tubes. Swartz's relationship to her audience is always one of communication and exchange and always aspires to a better version of human experience. She invites viewers to interact with her objects in order to galvanize a collective ambition for kindness and hope. If you listen carefully, you will hear her work say "Love is touch..."
- Julianne Swartz, quoted in Deborah Lynn Blumberg, "Through a tube starkly: Connecting on the Bowery," The Villager 74, 15 (August 11 – 17, 2004).
- Colin Moynihan, "Exhibit Offers a Peek Inside the Lives of Others," The New York Times, August 1, 2004.
- Julianne Swartz, quoted in Blumberg.
- Claire Bishop, Installation Art: A Critical History (London: Tate Publishing, 2005).
- Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith (New York: Routledge, 1994; originally published 1962), p. 320.
- For the history of interactive art, see Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Bruce Altshuler, do it (New York: Independent Curators Incorporated, 1997); and Rudolf Frieling and Boris Groys et al., The Art of Participation: 1950 to Now (San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2008). For primary sources, see Claire Bishop, ed., Participation: Documents of Contemporary Art (London: Whitechapel Gallery, 2006).
- Jonathan VanDyke, "Julianne Swartz: Tend the Thread: In Conversation with Jonathan VanDyke," FO A RM 4 (Spring 2005), p. 43.
- Julianne Swartz, quoted in Barbara A. MacAdam, "Magnetic Resonances," ARTnews 104, 2 (February 2005), p. 102.
- Julianne Swartz, unpublished proposal for Link/Line, 2001.
- Julianne Swartz, quoted in VanDyke, p. 41.
- Rudolf Freiling, "Toward Participation in Art," in Frieling and Groys et al., p. 35.
- Charles LaBelle, "Julianne Swartz; Josée Bienvenu Gallery, New York, USA," frieze 89 (March 2005), p. 132.
- Julianne Swartz, quoted in MacAdam.
- Julianne Swartz, quoted in VanDyke, p. 44.
- Julianne Swartz, quoted in VanDyke, p. 44.
- Swartz's use of this term was ﬁrst published in Sharon Corwin, "Altering Perceptions," Currents 1: Julianne Swartz (Waterville, Maine: Colby College Museum of Art, 2004), p. 9.
- On Lygia Clark's contribution to interactive art, see Melissa Pellico, "Lygia Clark," in Frieling and Groys et al.; and Susan Best, Visualizing Feeling: Affect and the Feminine Avant-Garde (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2011). 19 Corwin, p. 9.
- Trevor Medeiros, "An Alternative Moment with Artist Julianne Swartz," SoCo Magazine New England 7, 3 (March 2011), p. 109.
- Megan Lykins Reich, Julianne Swartz: Terrain (Cleveland: Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, 2011).
- Julianne Swartz, quoted in VanDyke, p. 42.
- David Sheff, "Playboy Interview: John Lennon and Yoko Ono," Playboy (January 1981), p. 82. Lennon told versions of this story more than once: see also Jann S. Wenner, "The Rolling Stone Interview: John Lennon, Part II," Rolling Stone 75 (February 4, 1971), available online at http://www. jannswenner.com/Archives/John_ Lennon_Part2.aspx.