Anja Ulfeldt makes visible what most of us choose to ignore.
Oakland neighborhoods, like the one the artist lives in, are comprised of aging houses and apartment buildings. The large plumbing pipes that hang from the sides of them routinely go unnoticed. You think, “All that rust and gunk: What an eyesore!” if you think of them at all. And the background noise of running water — from the toilet flush to the bathtub draining — is usually a mild annoyance and not a pleasure to hear.
Of Sound l Mind and Objects, Ulfeldt’s new exhibition at San Francisco's Museum of Craft and Design, is out to prove otherwise. The artist had a lucky run at a local salvage yard and found similar sized pipes from demolished buildings. At the museum, she has mounted an entire gallery wall with these enormous pipes, sealing them together and filling them with water. Against the high, white wall, the eye-catching installation Domestic Infrastructure #3 resembles a metallic alphabet, letters in an alien tongue.
But apart from its visual impact, Ulfeldt has made what she calls “a performable object" -- an interactive piece that yields more meaning from active engagement than from a passive gallery stroll. The point is to elicit a response in the participant through the use of sound and physical motion.
The pipes are fitted externally with microphones and internally with hydrophones. Speakers amplify the sound of water moving up and down and around the structure. There are two ways to activate all that gurgling and burbling. You can simply walk up close and the water slowly begins to travel. Alternatively, you move an antique hand pump back and forth until the water begins to vigorously rise.