Pe Lang, a Swiss artist long associated with sound art, is best known for his sculptural constructions that explore the possibilities of pattern and randomness, movement and resistance. From the rise and fall of floating speakers to the twists and turns of monochromatic wires, Lang’s aesthetically conceived objects succeed in creating moments of order and chaos.
Most memorably in the artist’s current exhibition ‘post-digitalism on the make’ at Galerie Mazzoli is the first work visitors encounter upon entering: ‘moving objects / n° 1900–1921’ (2019), wherein the friction and flow of crinkled paper creates a captivating acoustic experience. Formed with a rectangular grid of paper connected to a metal framework of revolving motors and wires, the piece’s serialized title reinforces its materiality by indicating the number of electro-motors used in its construction. The formal and functional significance of each individual component, which allow for kinetic variations and shifts in unexpected ways, invites the observer to scrutinize the work’s mesmerizing currents and sounds.
According to art historian and curator, Marc Wellmann, Lang’s kinetic contraptions are unrelated to “everyday object experiences,” connecting his work to Minimalist ethos. However, through the repetition of simultaneous mechanical movements, the sound sculptures create subtle frequencies—revolving disks, crumpling paper, shifting wires—which are never fully concealed and often produce sounds that mimic life. ‘Modular / n° 2,’ for example, which occupies an entire room in the back of the gallery, generates noises that might recall the morning song of birds or frogs through the minute, almost imperceivable, movement of tiny speakers on wires.
The auditory experiences in ‘post-digitalism on the make’ reveal a fascination with experimental music, electronics and computer programming, as well as a sustained interest in the effects of physical phenomena. Lang himself explores the fundamentals of the materials and natural powers of magnetism through an almost scientific approach to artmaking. Choreographed with technical virtuosity, the sound systems combine conceptual refinement and mechanical precision. Every component is built well: built to be formally significant as well as to engage the viewer.
Additionally, the dynamic grid constructions on view reflect Lang’s choice to work with the language of Minimalism. Evident in the work is a disciplined approach to purity in color and geometry; everything is black and white. Given this and Lang’s conviction that the materials should be exposed, an idea influenced by Constructivist practices, the pieces remind one of the works of Piet Mondrian, Kazimir Malevich, the black and white lines of Sol Lewitt’s wall drawings, and the theories of Donald Judd, particularly his concept of “specific objects.”
Through the exposed performance of numerous identical, mechanical parts, we see anew how materials behave. Such components function as a unified whole and have a meditative affect, compelling prolonged study by the observer. The dominant impression these objects left us with was one that activated the senses and invited sustained contemplation and participation on the part of the viewer.