Edison's Teeth

"In this new trap, the hard is made soft: the box defends itself against unfamiliar assaults, deaf to all that exceeds its powers; the membrane of the tympanum presents a skin surface to the outside and a membrane of mucous to the inside, the skin harder and the mucous softer, separated in the milieu of the membrane by a more resistant armature; the acoustic wave emanating from a shock changes into a chemical signal carrying the information electrically towards the centre… What centre? Does this box receive or transmit? To hear means to vibrate, but vibrating means emitting. Unfold the cochlea, for example, and an inverted piano appears, on which high and low are inscribed from left to right. But a piano sounds, it does not hear. The reasoning continues; The ear needs a more central ear in order to hear what is transmitted by the three ears, the external, the median and the internal, which are heard in succession. The centre hears. What centre?"  – Michael Serres

The gallery is a drum, stretched thin and taut. It echoes outwards, reverberating sounds, attitudes, opinions, and critiques. While the space seems still, it trembles against each applied force. David Ballantine’s exhibition, Edison’s Teeth, harnesses the unseen aural power of gallery in order to destabilize institutional foundations, questioning the position of sensorial affect within contemporary art.

As a liminal zone, the gallery environ occupies the space between ideas and perspectives, between subject and object, and many other antithetical binaries. Ballantine transforms part of the space into a biological diaphragm. Usually regarded as the muscle separating the thorax and abdomen, the diaphragm plays a crucial role in respiratory systems. The title, Edison’s Teeth, references Steven Connor’s essay on sound and acoustics, noting that Thomas Edison would sometimes put a reed of wood between his teeth and claim to hear a flood of different sounds through vibrations. When appropriated into a gallery setting, Ballantine choose to focus on acoustic engagement within the gallery’s “breaths”; his work acts as a participant-powered lung or whistle that outputs a bellowing breath and auditory blast through viewer interaction.

So what does this mean for the gallery? Ballantine asks the viewer to consider their physical engagement with the work as the crucial element for activation. Participatory artworks can make conscious the viewer’s spatial and sometimes political position, and Ballantine’s work no different. As one pushes the inviting brass handle to the stretched limits, hearing a low roar of surrounding sounds, the agency of the audience becomes apparent for activating the work. Here(/Hear) your impressions, your presence, your efforts produce the work. As the gallery wall bounces back into rigidity, Bunker 2 has become responsive to every person. Edison’s Teeth symbolizes the gallery’s position as a social, cultural, and personal speaker box.

Edison’s Teeth begs the deeper question surrounding the role of passive vs. active spectatorship. Instead of having art and cultural pedagogy be didactically presented without conversation, Ballantine’s work specifically outlines the individual as power-producer, having their mark be felt (and heard) throughout the gallery. Edison’s Teeth references how audience participation can act as a form of critique or communication through an otherwise one-way spectator relationship. In doing so, the exhibition gives you the choice to push-back against the gallery, or watch as someone else does.

Text by Matthew Kyba

David Ballantine is a Toronto based artist whose practice explores the sensing body in place through mediating instruments. His works for kinetic sculpture, composition, sound installations and intervention span various fields from Art to pseudoscience. As both a composer and inventor, he fabricates instruments to capture, recreate or exploit natural acoustic phenomena with elements of environment, architecture, machine and live performance. Through the sensuous body, his work is activated by the play of its audience.

Featuring David Ballantine

On view January 19th – February 5th, 2017

Opening Reception Thursday, January 19th (7–9PM)

Curated by Matthew Kyba


Edison's Teeth, 2017 (installation view)

Edison's Teeth, 2017 (detail) 

Using Format