A.K. Burns: Tracing Sounds at the Carpenter Center

Leave No Trace
Leave No Trace is a two-track vinyl record of a mix of ambient environmental recordings and electric guitar by artist A. K. Burns.

On April 4, at the Carpenter Center’s Consumer Research Center/bookshop, Brooklyn artist and current Radcliffe Fellow A.K. Burns presented her new sound piece “Leave No Trace,” a vinyl record of ambient environmental sound and music. In conversation with her was fellow multimedia artist Taylor Davis, who mentored Burns at Bard College, along with interim Carpenter Center Director Dina Deitsch, who served as interlocutor. The event was a collaboration with Burns’ ongoing exhibition “No Time, No Place, No Body,” on view through April 14 in the Johnson-Kulukundis Family Gallery at Radcliffe. As part of her Radcliffe Fellowship, the exhibition is open through April 14th.

Daisy Nam, assistant director of the CCVA and one of the event organizers, discussed some of the considerations specific to the site that go into the presentation of sound events like this one. “I think we were gravitating towards sound, because Le Corbusier, who was the architect of this building, had a really beautiful quote about the ‘architecture acoustique’ and how that plays within the building. And he had this idea of literally playing the building, and sound comes from within the space,” said Nam. According to Nam there will be more sound events to come this season at the CCVA. “From May until the week of June there’s a few sound events throughout, and this is just one of them,” she said.

The record itself is packaged in a clear plastic sleeve containing an unlabeled piece of vinyl—so there is no differentiating which is side A or B—and two black plastic gloves. A poem is printed in white on the side of the sleeve opposite the title, also in white, making it intentionally difficult to read unless the black record rests behind it. The title of the record, as Burns noted during the talk, refers to the classic “wilderness ethics” of leave no trace when you are in the wild, something Burns sees as an impossible feat.

The evening opened and closed with the playing of Burns’ record. Part talk, part social gathering, the artists encouraged the audience to actively participate in the conversation segment to encourage a more casual atmosphere.

Though the event was ostensibly put on for the release of the record, much of the talk naturally gravitated to discussing the the visual work of both artists. Burns and Davis alternated speaking about their work, with a slideshow behind them displaying art spanning their respective careers. When asked about her favorite pieces, audience member Emily F. Cobb, attending her first event at the bookstore noted Burns’ dirt bags to be particularly interesting. “I was curious about the bags of dirt, but I haven’t seen any of the work in person, so it was interesting to just be introduced to a new artist,” said Cobb. The dirt bags in question were partially perforated bags of earth which slouched against the wall, a work which the artist mentioned was inspired by the idea of dwarf planets. However, the greatest space of overlap seemed to be in the topic of positive and negative space, which they later jokingly called “the S word.” Both artists also expressed a consciousness of materiality as an important factor in their work.

Deitsch said that she was pleased with how these two different artists were able to engage in a substantive conversation together. “What I liked about their pairing is that while their work is so visually different—Taylor works in a minimalist sculpture lexicon and A.K. is one of images and radical material presence—their thinking about and concerns around the political use of language are nearly identical. They both view language as a material and vice versa. It was wonderful to see them hash that out together in public and to have them co-read one of Taylor’s impossible new text pieces,” she said in an email.

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