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Darwin's Bassoon - The Nesting Place
Landa Townsend
The LAB, San Francisco
by Randal Davis

With the austerity of its visual elements set against the richness of their associations and the lively chatter of its aural component, the sights and sounds of Landa Townsend's Darwin's Bassoon are at once charming and mysterious.

The installation is comprised of five waist-high tables, each sixteen inches square and surmounted with a wooden trellis-like structure that reaches above the viewer's head. Scattered throughout the gallery, the tables each carry one small Mimosa pudica plant, while growing lights suspended in the trellises above the Mimosa provide the only illumination. The viewer's proximity to the structures triggers programs of field recordings of bird calls, heard at each table through a pair of miniature loudspeakers, representing in total some twenty species. Meanwhile, each of the five stations is further associated with a particular ecosystem.

Seeking to "investigate the relationship of harmonic sound waves to plants" in a manner inspired by the early experiments of Darwin and later work by T. C. Singh, Darwin's Bassoon proposes interactive viewing and listening" in an installation in which "the processes of nature are thus perceptually equated with the processes of art."

This is a large order, and finally a somewhat ambiguous one. Apart from the vast totalizations contained in the two principal referents, "art" and "nature," the precise nature of the notional "perceptual equation" remains elusive. There is precedent, of course, for work directly modeling, or even creating, complex social and ecological systems—one thinks, for example, of the earlier projects of Hans Haacke and the entire oeuvre of Helen and Newton Harrison. Darwin's Bassoon, however, does not finally operate at all in this way.

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