The best time to see Naoko Wowsugi’s latest solo show may be when it’s blessedly quiet. That’s not at all what the artist has in store for viewers. “Permacounterculture,” her show at Hamiltonian Gallery, is an invitational series of noise and hardcore shows in a garage of sorts that’s built inside the gallery. This is an art show that comes with ear-plugs.
“Permacounterculture” is a fine-art shed. From one side, the 25’-by-10’ structure, the only object in her show, appears to be a straightforward white cube, perforated only by a few windows. It’s a visual pun: She’s placing a white-cube sculpture in a white-cube space. But the structure is also a greenhouse and a venue. Over the course of her show, Wowsugi will grow wheat grass nurtured by the sound of local hardcore (in both recordings and live performances). The wheat grass she will in turn use to make wheat-grass shots, a way for viewers and listeners to literally consume her work.
Wowsugi—a conceptual artist whose last show at Hamiltonian featured art assignments that her students at American University created for her birthday—means to unite a few different disciplines with “Permacounterculture.” This show involves the same act-of-curation-as-concept that she showcased in “Assignment: Happy Birthday.” There is a strong visual statement in the sculptural installation itself. With its purple LED lamps, the greenhouse loosely resembles the neon-sculpture work by artist Iván Navarro: minimalist but not serious about it. Serving up wheatgrass shots as contemporary art is a straight-edge DIY version of the banquets that Jennifer Rubell hosts as art during the big global art fairs.
The artist chose wheat grass, she says, because she could imagine the sprouts head-banging to the pressure of live music during the hardcore shows. Heatwave, Unknown Threat, Smart Hearts, and Literals (whose members include Matt Cohen, City Paper’s arts editor) played to a sweaty crowd on Saturday night. Future performances include Earth Girls, Sem Hastro, and BBC (tonight) as well as Video Pricks and Iron Cages (on September 9).
All the currents come together in “Permacounterculture” when the venue’s full and the music’s loud. But whereas “Assignment: Happy Birthday” featured playful juxtapositions of curator and author, Wowsugi is mostly missing from “Permacounterculture” at its most lit. It’s not clear why her white cube doubles as a sound-stage and not, say, a black-box theatre. Beyond her personal affinity for the music, there’s nothing that tethers Wowsugi to the art that she is enabling.
Other artists, typically men, have combined hard art with hard music. Banks Violette once cast the equipment of drone lords Sunn O))) in salt sculptures for a performance; Matthew Barney hosted an epic black-metal pig roast in 2008 with the likes of Dagon, Krallice, and Copremesis. Wowsugi’s survey focuses on metal as a life force rather than a death knell. She finds in noise a source of sustenance, no doubt a feeling that is shared within D.C.’s local music scene.
The thread connecting D.C. hardcore and Wowsugi’s sculpture may in fact be DIY: Working with gallery personnel and volunteers, the artist designed and built the installation–slash–garage over the course of a weekend, using supplies donated by Home Depot and the Washington Project for the Arts. For fans of hardcore, there will be nothing unusual at all about Wowsugi’s plan to build a stage and host some shows. For fans of contemporary art—and specifically of Wowsugi’s brand of conceptual gymnastics—the reasoning is harder to follow.
Through Sept. 10. 1353 U St. NW. $5-$10. (202) 332-1116. hamiltoniangallery.com.