Posting has been light this week because I’ve been helping Jason Kahn set up his sound installation downtown on E Travis St (which is officially opening this Saturday). Kahn, a Zürich-based artist, has been working with sound as a material for years, in both performance and installation contexts. The idea is to activate existing spaces in a way that reveals unnoticed qualities, architecturally, environmentally, and perhaps socially.
In some senses “San Antonio Beauty College” has a strong relationship to Max Neuhaus’ Times Square piece; it is unmarked, and mostly invisible (if you look closely you’ll spot some small speakers); it uses abstract textural sounds that change as you move around them; its significance in the environment is meant to shift as other sounds move along the street. But socially, it feels very different. Times Square could hardly be further from this little piece of Travis street in terms of the amount of foot traffic and the socio-economic makeup of that traffic.
The block of Travis where he is installing this piece (titled “San Antonio Beauty College”) is between Broadway and Alamo. Although it is near the Express-News building, and around the corner from the popular Twin Sisters café, we’ve noticed that no one who has a home seems to walk on this little stretch of Travis Street. The space has become a kind of social eddy, as the employed flow down Pecan or Houston Streets.
As I’ve been publicizing this installation, which is meant to be experienced from the sidewalk in front of the building, I wonder how the existence of the piece will impact the social space it inhabits. Will the people who ordinarily walk down this street notice the subtle sonic textures that Kahn has engineered to be concealed and revealed as the city sounds ebb and flow? Will it attract visitors from nearby businesses, or just the occasional art observer? I’ve often wondered if we’re too limited in the ways that we think about using public art: a monument here, a mural there. Have we overlooked the power of small, almost unnoticeable environmental responses to shift the social landscape? I don’t expect this installation to have much impact in that regard, but if you see me sitting in Twin Sisters watching the sidewalk all day, you’ll know what I’m doing.
By the way, check our event listings to the right for more information on Jason Kahn’s performance this Saturday.