Translating communication symbols & systems into color, sound and objects Glassboro, NJ – Rowan University Art Gallery presents Chromography: Writing in Color, a two-person exhibition examining concepts of translation and symbol-based communication, from March 23 – May 9. A reception on Thursday, April 9 from 5:00 – 8:00 p.m. features an artist’s talk beginning at 6:00 p.m. to include a performance of excerpts from musical translations represented in the exhibit.
Artists Melinda Steffy and Gerard Brown explore concepts of translation and symbol-based communication in their work. Starting with different sets of symbols—Steffy with music and Brown with writing—both artists have developed systems for translating distinct methods of communication into visual artworks. Written texts, then, rely on color and pattern to be understood. Music, usually experienced as linear and time-based, can be seen all at once, in immediate spatial configurations. Gerard Brown explores the intersection of seeing and reading, often by employing codes that do not—at first glance—resemble writing. Brown employs a script of nautical signal flags arranged according to traditional “tumbling block” pattern similar to quilting patterns. The tumbling block pattern is a powerful optical illusion that creates the feeling of three-dimensional space on a flat plane. This illusion offers an analog to the ways writing can be confused with speech. Unlike most other forms of writing, signal flags rely on color to communicate their message and are easily confused with one another if color is absent. Converting the common alphabet into a patterned array of color reveals idiosyncratic instances in language, as letterforms repeat and combine into new shapes and arrangements.
Melinda Steffy explores congruent patterns by translating compositions by J.S. Bach and Béla Bartók into watercolor paintings on paper. In her translations, each of the notes of the chromatic scale corresponds with a hue on the color wheel; as the music progresses through the key signatures, the paintings’ color schemes shift. Notes and rhythms are plotted on a grid to show intrinsic tonal and rhythmic structures. The subtle irregularity of the hand-painted squares and watercolor pigments captures a sense of tone variation similar to a live performance.
A central element of this exhibition is “The Hours,” an elaborate experiment in translation that moves messages from writing to music to image. Working with “Solresol,” a language invented by composer and violinist François Sudre (1787 – 1862), the seven notes of the musical scale: DO RE ME FA SO LA TI are used to translate texts. Each word in Solresol uses one to four syllables (or notes), resulting in a lexicon of about 3,000 terms. Sudre constructed dictionaries to translate French, English, and other European tongues into his new language, and created systems of notation – including one that assigns colors to notes – by which it could be written. In this manner, colored flags or lights could transit messages. Brown translated short literary descriptions of times of day into the Solresol language and then into brief melodies that chime at the hours they describe. For example, a passage about the end of the day from Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” becomes a lonely, meandering melody for brass ensemble. Each tune was then re-scored by Steffy, using the system she invented that translates musical notes into color. Several of these visualizations are installed on the gallery windows as decals, and each of them sounds at its designated time in the public space outside the gallery. In the gallery, “The Hours” are presented in the books where the passages originated.
Gerard Brown, a writer and painter, is an Assistant Professor at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art. His work explores how the mind moves from seeing to reading by concealing writing in patterns and color. His paintings and drawings have been exhibited at the Woodmere Art Museum, Tiger Strikes Asteroid, Painted Bride Art Center, Philadelphia Sculpture Gym, and the Icebox (all in Philadelphia), as well as Finlandia University Art Gallery (Michigan) and 5.4.7 Art Center (Kansas). He has also organized exhibits for the Center for Art in Wood (Philadelphia) and Hicks Art Center at Bucks County Community College.
Melinda Steffy, a visual artist and classically-trained musician from Philadelphia, has had artwork displayed across the Northeast and beyond, including the Icebox, the Hall at the Crane Arts Building, and Sam Quinn Gallery (Philadelphia); Delaware Center for Contemporary Art and Fringe Wilmington (Delaware); Lancaster Museum of Art and Villanova University (Pennsylvania); Finlandia University (Michigan); Micro Museum (New York); and Stamford Art Association (Connecticut). She is an artist member of InLiquid and a LEADERSHIP Philadelphia fellow. An accomplished musician, Steffy currently serves as general manager for the innovative music nonprofit LiveConnections and sings with the Chestnut Street Singers.
Admission to the gallery, talk and reception is free and open to the public. Regular gallery hours are Monday – Friday, 10 am to 5 pm (with extended hours on Wednesdays to 7 pm); and Saturday, 12 to 5
Rowan University Art Gallery is located on the lower level of Westby Hall on the university campus, Route 322 in Glassboro, NJ. Directions can be found on the gallery or university websites. For more information, call 856-256-4521 or visit www.rowan.edu/artgallery.
This program is made possible in part with funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.
Mary Salvante, Gallery & Exhibitions Program Director
CONTACT: Dennis Dougherty (856) 256-4537
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