Phonic Substance

Jamal Cyrus

Exhibition: Jul 15 – Sep 12, 2010

Jamal Cyrus’s Artpace exhibition, Phonic Substance, is comprised of five components. The first is a large-scale vertical graphite drawing that uses an image of a UFO sighting-a record procured through the Freedom of Information Act signed into effect in 1967, which mandated the disclosure of documents and information controlled by the United States government. The image is duplicated in the first three frames of an enlarged 16mm filmstrip; subsequent frames convert into images of a large stone sculpture from the Olmec civilization of South-central Mexico.

The second component in the installation is a bronze conch shell, resting atop a pyramidal base modeled from the Pyramid of the Sun in Mexico’s ancient city of Teotihuacán. There is also a bass drum closely surrounded by clusters of non-functioning microphones that appear to capture the reverberations echoing through the gallery. The fourth component is a freestanding platform that has the pattern of sound lines-as they would travel through the space-etched into its surface. The final piece harkens back to the original graphite filmstrip, referencing documents that have been censored by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and were later made public through the Freedom of Information Act. The large-scale drawing makes areas of censorship prominent, highlighting large blocks that have been erased with black ink.

Cyrus employed a different formal technique in rendering each piece in the installation. The filmstrip reproduced on a large strip of paper was composed through precise incisions filled in with graphite. A testament to tradition and ritual, the conch shell was cast in bronze to weather a literal and metaphorical test of time, discoloring and developing a soft sheen of patina as it ages. The bass drum is covered in silky black leather, surrounded by microphones that are expected to capture and amplify sound, yet are simply for show, and remind of the role and emergence of music in culture. The monolithic bases sit heavily on the floor of the space, structurally alluring and imposing in black concrete. The stark white pyramid echoes the artist’s interests in cross-cultural iconographic parallels, and is reminiscent of the historical legacy and sophistication of ancient societies that repeated pyramidal architecture throughout the globe.

For his exhibition, Cyrus juxtaposes a series of dissonant objects that are formally unrelated, yet share cross-cultural origins and temporality. He pulls from a non-linear view of history, identifying the concrete and corporeal intersections between diverse cultures to focus his attention. Thus the origins and progression of music, the use of the conch shell in differing social and civil rituals, and pyramidal architecture seen in continents across the world act as Cyrus’s thematic embarkation to explore their functions and influences between direct and indirect cultural interactions.

-Leslie Moody Castro, Graduate Intern


Jamal Cyrus

Houston, Texas, USA

Houston-based Jamal Cyrus’s body of work began from revisionist approaches within American history, particularly studies dealing with the African Diaspora and the formulation of Black political movements. His work acts as a document of questioning, meditation, mediation, and commemoration, attempting to distill and preserve the essences of political and social struggle. More recently, he has become interested in the idea of “The New World,” and the ensuing after-effects of clashing cultures-specifically the characterization of cultures as they blend. For Cyrus, this interest is manifested in the results of creolization, hybridity, and the notion that cultures are becoming much more abstract and increasingly difficult to define.
Cyrus received his MFA from the University of Pennsylvania in 2009. After receiving his BFA from the University of Houston in 2004, he attended the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture in 2005. He has participated in exhibitions at The Kitchen in New York, New York (2009); The Museum of London Docklands, London, England (2009); Office Baroque Gallery, Antwerp, Belgium (2007); and CTRL gallery, Houston, Texas (2007). Cyrus’s work was shown in the Whitney Biennial 2006: Day for Night; and he is an active participant in the artist collective Otabenga Jones & Associates, with whom he has contributed to exhibitions such as Contemporary Artists and the Civil Rights Legacy, High Museum, Atlanta, Georgia (2008); and Lessons from Below, The Menil Collection, Houston (2007).

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Patrick Charpenel

Mexico City, Mexico

Patrick Charpenel is an art historian and collector currently working as an independent curator in Mexico City. He holds a graduate degree in philosophy. Charpenel has curated numerous exhibitions including Franz West, Tamayo Museum, Mexico City, Mexico (2006); Sólo los personajes cambian, Museum of Contemporary Art, Monterrey, Mexico (2004);, Moore Space, Miami, Florida (2003); Edén, Jumex Collection, Mexico City, Mexico (2003); and ACNÉ, Museum of Modern Art, Mexico City, Mexico (1995). He has numerous critical texts published in catalogues and magazines.

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