Artists Jonathan Villeneuve and David Khang take on complex themes at the grunt gallery

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Jonathan Villeneuve: Do the Wave
At the grunt gallery until October 6

David Khang: Amelogenesis Imperfecta
At the grunt gallery until September 22

Peer through the glass door at the front of the grunt gallery and all seems to be still and fixed within. But push the door open, walk into the gallery, and Jonathan Villeneuve’s Do the Wave comes emphatically to life, generating both sound and movement where previously there had been neither. Triggered by a motion sensor, the Montreal artist’s electromechanical sculpture is activated by your presence, as if you were a person of great consequence. It’s unexpectedly gratifying.

“My work,” Villeneuve writes in his artist’s statement, “is made out of common objects and materials—familiar elements that evoke the architecture of the everyday.” In Do the Wave, these include 63 unpainted two-by-fours (the base material of home-building) and a corresponding number of wooden troughs, the latter wrapped in AstroTurf (the “grass” of countless football stadiums and playing fields). Hanging vertically like wind chimes or the keys of an immense, up-tilted piano, and mobilized by individual wooden cams rotating on a shaft, the boards swing outward, slowly and sequentially, producing the effect of a standing wave that ripples from one end of the gallery to the other.

As the boards move, they rub against the sides of the troughs, creating long, low, groaning or mooing sounds that evoke the presence of a large animal. These sounds suggest, too, that the thousands upon thousands of sports fans who fill arenas and participate in the standing wave ritual are operating collectively as one immense, inarticulate beast—one giant, twitching organism. While initially presenting as a simple and pleasing interactive artwork, Do the Wave has a social, as well as mechanical and architectural, dimension. Through its calibrated sequence of movements, it also speaks to how we attempt to comprehend our passage through time and space.

In the grunt’s Media Lab, David Khang’s Amelogenesis Imperfecta (How Deep Is the Skin of Teeth) assembles a number of themes, materials, and images, all folded into the emerging field of bio art. Khang spun this moodily lit, laboratorylike installation out of his 2010 residency at the SymbioticA Centre for Biological Arts at the University of Western Australia in Perth. And although he didn’t accomplish what he set out to do there (grow a miniature sculpture out of dental enamel), he did pull off a series of images that relate to the verbal and nonverbal means we’ve invented to measure or describe our existence. Epithelial cells micro-engraved with words and images; a short, animated video of a human tooth evolving into a shark, projected into a tank of inky water; and a piece of sharkskin—all pose questions about our place in the natural world and our relationship with the animals we exploit for scientific or cultural reasons. It’s a complex, engrossing, and ultimately unsettling work.

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