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New Work by Reuben Lorch-Miller and Sheri Simons: At Southern Exposure

By Kira Garcia

I learned a couple of lessons about visiting galleries during a recent trip to Southern Exposure. First, it's difficult to maintain a kind of pensive, art-watching, gallery face while ducking a model train doing acrobatics on a flying track just above your head. And second, there are some things you just can't fake.

Sheri Simons' installation Sayonara consists of two hanging wooden structures which dominate and control the first floor of the gallery. A toy train, decorated with a tiny white ruff at the "neck" of the engine, careens at a moderate pace around the large circular track structure at the right. This seemingly flimsy circle of wood, its vast circumference commanding most of the room, careens dangerously close to walls and bystanders, yet somehow it manages to maintain a miniscule buffer zone, steering just clear of impact.

Simons' chosen soundtrack is a slowed-down recording of the old folk standard "You are My Sunshine." This is the kind of song that makes people weep for their mamas even when the record isn't set at the wrong rpm. At Simons' chosen speed, it's practically dirgelike. Put this together with the imminent disaster of a model train track draped in cheesecloth, which could whiz past your hair at any moment and take you with it to the other side of the room, and one is left confused and muttering to oneself. Not out of anger, mind you. The whole project is good-natured in its obtuseness; Simons seems to know that her model locomotive will probably incite a chuckle. Especially given that it seems intent on its own demise. Simons statement describes the work as moving towards "cumulative error". Perhaps what's truly engaging in this work is its warm embrace of flawed mechanics, and its charming resignation to its own wrong-ness.

Upstairs, Reuben Lorch-Miller's Avian creates its own kind of unsettling ambience. Tiny speakers the size of mushrooms, each wired with long tails of skinny cable, hang en masse in the center of the room. From just beneath them, the sound is perfectly enveloping. Each speaker seems dedicated to its own one-note organic soundtrack. Frogs croak, insects whirr and click, and of course the eponymous avian species warble above it all. This is an intense, layered, springtime-in-the-middle-of-nowhere kind of orchestral sound. The thickness of it is almost menacing, especially to citified patrons without much experience in the great outdoors. Like Simon's careening trains, Lorch-Miller's invisible insects can make you want to duck out of the way. The visual aesthetic is an abrupt contrast: the artist has done little to alter the barren atmosphere of the space. The electronic components he has used are white, further lending to the sense of sterility.

Give it a few minutes, and you'll start to notice that the soundtrack is repeating itself. Before long, this awestruck examination of natural noise gives itself away as a purely human construct. For some, this will read as subtle humor. Like riding Space Mountain with the lights turned on, Avian may begin to feel less than mysterious. Despite this, another kind of fascination develops when all the mechanics are exposed.