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Scientific Principles and Craft Traditions Converge in Tauba Auerbach’s Research-Focused Practice
July 6, 2023
Tauba Auerbach (previously) wants “to be somewhere that isn’t a hard edge,” within a space that mimics the instability of “The Wave Organ.” Embedded within a jetty of the San Francisco Bay, the sculpture was created by Peter Richards and George Gonzalez in 1986 and captures the sounds of waves as they crash into and fill the pipes, emitting a musical mix of gurgling and gushing noises as the tide changes. The work is designed to highlight the acoustic irregularities of Earth’s elements and is also one of Auerbach’s favorite locations in their native San Francisco.
In a new episode of Art21’s 11th season, “Bodies of Knowledge,” which premiered in late June, Auerbach visits the instrument and explains their interest in natural patterns and processes, physics, and mathematic principles. They harbor a profound curiosity and desire to understand the complex systems that undergird life, many of which they interpret as swirling marbled paper, spontaneous tessellated drawings in marker, and writhing beaded sculptures that evoke biological forms like the rigid composition of a sea sponge.
Auerbach’s New York studio is brimming with these translations, and shelves lining the space are filled with puzzles, organic matter, and small treasures that inspire the artist’s works. They’re interested in how these structures and systems are not just the basis of life on Earth but also of craft and artistic traditions. For Auerbach, research into how pigments rest atop water or how variances in the velocity of the artist’s hand affects a painting is as important as the work itself. “I am quite compelled by things that just barely work. The near–impossibility is key,” they say.
After surveying the artist’s broad and diverse practice, the segment closes with “Auerglass,” an interactive organ-like instrument Auerbach created in collaboration with their friend and musician Cameron Mesirow. Made of glass and wood, the apparatus functions with pedals, keys, and pipes like the traditional design, although it requires two players. Each person has only half a keyboard—four octaves have been divided by alternating notes—and is required to pump air for the other. Physically engaging and rooted in the principles of sound, “Auerglass” is evidence of the artist’s interest in the experiential, connection, and the understanding that “the body is an important thinking tool.”
Auerbach will open a solo show titled TIDE on July 15 at Fridericianum in Kassel, Germany. That exhibition runs through January 14, 2024, and you can find more of their work on their site and Instagram. You also might enjoy earlier Art21 episodes on Wangechi Mutu and Guadalupe Maravilla.
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