Do you want to know how it feels inside a giant speaker?
This is the experience I enjoyed inside of Katherine Trimble’s new exhibit, Touch Box, at the Lawndale Art Center. The installation is located on the third floor, down a hallway that is eerily silent other than the creaking of wooden floorboards. Although the atmosphere makes me feel apprehensive about opening the door to the exhibit, I’m lucky enough to have a friend who pushes me forward.
We are embraced by total darkness—all I can see is blackness, nothingness, sensory deprivation. This must be what it's like in a black hole. As I feel around, I fear that I will touch something strange. Will a hand reach out? Will a misplaced nail graze my fingers? I only feel the coarse texture of the walls that enclose the space. Really, I'm not yet sure what Trimble, who has a musical and visual arts background, is trying to accomplish.
In fact, once we get our bearings, my friend and I are disappointed; we wonder if this is all the exhibit has to offer. But once we exit the room, we find that the adjacent space features a solitary hanging microphone. It dawns on us the two rooms are interrelated parts of the exhibit. My friend urges me to return to the previous room to see if I can hear anything while she speaks into the microphone.
As I re-enter the pitch black, I become aware of how alone I am. The lack of visual or auditory stimulation makes me feel like I’m floating through space. Suddenly, I'm startled by vibrations emanating around me, and I outstretch my hands to the closest wall and feel as the surface quakes from the sound waves. Walking along the four walls, the reverberations ebb and flow in a strange symphony. There is a rumbling that travels past my feet to the back wall. From thundering to a soft buzz, the vibrations evoke a gamut of emotions and experiences from everyday life.
The exhibit plays with many contrasts: feelings of being lonely and surrounded, darkness and light, quietness and chaos, listening and making noise. Trimble created the exhibit so the two rooms work harmoniously as a system. In many ways, the exhibit represents the interdependence of human relationships because you need someone to generate sound so that the other person can feel the vibrations. You must depend on another human being. You must work together to create the experience.
For these reasons, Touch Box is a great place to bring a date or anyone you want to get to know because there’s probably no better way to bond than venturing into a pitch black room together. The exhibit messes with your senses—it’s wonky, unfamiliar, and a nice break from the constant overstimulation we deal with every single day. Best of all, it’s a nice reminder that life is better when you don’t go alone.
Touch Box, thru Oct. 22. Lawndale Art Center, 4912 Main St. 713-528-5858. More info at lawndaleartcenter.org.