IRFP Presents Project:AIR Overview


A studio project curated by Meg Rotzel

Featuring Christy Georg, John Osorio-Buck, Jessica Rylan, and Meg Rotzel

Smith College, Northampton MA
March 1-5, 2004

Main Hallway I think we were all a little freaked out by the Smith Student Center at first, which we clandestinely referred to as the "I-Building." The only description we'd heard in advance was that the main hallway had a lot of windows, but no one bothered to mention that everything was color-coded and featured "ultra-contemporary" design. My first reaction to the building was that it offered no privacy, and that it was really more oriented towards being an advertisement to prospective students than being a functional building.

Service Hallway When John Osorio-Buck and I were exploring, we found a service hallway which linked the "multi-purpose room" (where they have school dances) to a freight elevator and a green room, which (of course) was all green. I decided I wanted to do a sound installation in the hallway, since it was the only private space I found. However, the building manager said I couldn't do it because of fire codes.

Three Floors The main idea behind project:air was that we were all alumnae of the Berwick's Artist in Research program, and we'd set up studios in the campus center and work all week. We were assigned the orange and green room in the middle floor of the building. It was a good location, in that a lot of students walked by all the time. The first two days, a lot of girls walked by and stared, but very few came in. It was good because I got a lot of work done, but weird because I felt like I was on display at the human zoo.

Three Benches There was another location that piqued my interest, which was three adjacent benches on the upper floor. There was a different color behind each one. It seemed like a strange place to wait, as if you'd go there to wait for a bus or an airplane that was never actually going to come. There was no reason you'd walk by those benches unless you went there as a destination. I realized that it was actually a private space, and I got interested in working with it. I decided to build three self-contained, battery-powered boxes, color coded just like the benches. Each one would have a headphone jack, so if you were sitting up there doing homework and you got sick of your I-pod, you could just plug into one of my boxes and listen to something abstract for a while.

Electronic Bird I wanted to base my project on a circuit from an old issue of Popular Electronics, the "Solid State Bird." The article claims it "whistles and warbles like a canary." The circuit used parts from the pocket-sized transistor radios that became popular in the mid-1960's. I felt like it was important to use as close parts as I could get to the original. The biggest problem was the transistors, but I eventually found some (for a very reasonable price) on the internet, but I won't say where because I don't want some jerk speculator/collector going and buying out their whole stock!

Jessica and New Synth The problem was, starting on the third day, we were mobbed. People were constantly coming in and asking us about our projects. I got invited to speak to a class about my sound installations. It was really neat to talk to so many people about art, and make some new friends, but I couldn't make any headway with the bird. Building electronic circuits takes a lot of uninterrupted time and concentration. So I switched gears and spent more time on my new synthesizer. I'd all ready built five modules before I left for Smith, and all I had to do was wire them up. It was really exciting when I first got to play it through a speaker! But the closing party was even more exciting. A bunch of other people started playing my synthesizer, getting all different kinds of results. But my favorite part was when a six year old boy, Thalisen, started playing it. He patched in every cable he could find and turned every knob, fearlessly. After a while I started playing with him. We played together for 15 minutes and I felt like I was in a trance, and I learned a lot about music. I hope I get to go back in the fall and finish my project for the three benches, but in any case I had a wonderful time and in the end I learned to love the I-Building after all!

note: most of these photos are by John Osorio-Buck and Mr. Rotzel (Meg's dad), thanks a lot guys! And Special Big Thanks to Julie and Nicole, who made this project possible through the Arts Resource Center at Smith! You're the best!

Copyright 2004 by Jessica Rylan.
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