3 Surfaces

— Essay

“Natural science does not simply describe and explain nature; it is part of the interplay between nature and ourselves.”

— Werner Heisenberg

Through his work with sound, artist Yann Novak offers his viewers on interplay between the natural and constructed worlds—one that is technologically enhanced and manipulated, yet always involving a human presence at its very core. Novak creates a duet between himself and the space with which he interacts by constructing a tension between source material and personal experience.

A self-defined visual artist rather than a composer, Novak concerns himself with the conceptual principles within sound, not its technical virtuosity. Therefore, he is not afraid to challenge his abilities and demonstrate his vulnerabilities—his humility, discomfort, or emotion. He deliberately employs diverse methods for each work that he creates—going so for as to update software before mastering the previous version, and destroying his original files so thot there is no roadmap for future works (much like a photographer who destroys his negatives).

In Novak’s newest project 3 Surfaces, a sound and light installation in the main stairwell of the Armory Center for the Arts, the artist expands his practice once again by creating a physical intervention between sound, space, and light. 3 Surfaces incorporates the unique sounds, natural light, and architectural details of the space as primary materials, and is formed using field recordings of the space itself, captured during hours of peak activity. Using digital filtering and processing, the recordings are transformed into a subtle environmental “tint” to influence the audience’s perception of the space. Colored scrims create three new surfaces above the stairwell, allowing natural light to be filtered through, suggesting a more private, intimate experience.

It is this intimate experience, and the architecture which contains it, that initially attracted Novak to the Armory’s stairwell. Even when working with minimal elements, he is always concerned with the composition of space (and the spaces in-between) as a way in which to guide the audience toward his work. Although the space at first glance may be perceived as uninviting, the artist’s earnest goal is to bring the viewers in and make them feel comfortable.

As physicist Werner Heisenberg noted, the natural sciences offer a means to understand ourselves; in 3 Surfaces, Novak frames the staircase as a place in which to pause, congregate, and reflect, rather than simply a thoroughfare in which to pass. “My overall objective” says Novak “is to create something that makes the audience want to stay.”