Mateo Tannatt at Marc Foxx, more than 100 x 6 seconds ago

I listen near a plywood baby grand piano as it hangs from a ceiling strut (the skylight frame, to be precise), it swings slightly, and I hear the slowed sound of another, and real, piano as it is dropped from some height to crash on some floor, somewhere (apparently the Hammer Museum). The sound comes from inside this plywood surrogate for a baby grand, on a fine looking boom box.

I imagine that I detect an audio tape being rewound, as though the original of this digital file was on tape, but no one does that anymore, right? When I inquire at the front desk I learn that what I heard may have been the resonance of crushing ivory keys and tight metal strings, as these are warped in Mateo Tannatt’s process of slowing six second (give or take) performance recordings to a six minute piece.

The rope that suspends this weighty sculpture from the ceiling curls nicely beneath its swinging mass, the end of this rope points up and to the south. I notice now a spindly spider hanging near an unused electrical outlet. I can smell pine and some sort of adhesive, probably a non-formaldehydic glue in the plywood. Having crouched to look at the spider, I see green paint at the bottom edge lid – at the hinge, and this green matches in tone, if not in shade, a blue cord that runs through the rope. Circling the swinging keyboard I find more green paint staining the back (the verso of this sketch of a piano?) and the bookend matches have me wondering just how Mateo Tannatt cut his shapes from sheets of plywood.

There’s a movie poster on the west wall and I imagine this as a tool to open my mind and complicate my concrete reading of the installation, and then I recall earlier work by Tannatt and I wonder some more. I think of Alfred Hitchcock and I wonder if Mateo storyboards his projects, as did the famously meticulous director? I recognize that Tannatt uses sculptures as characters and that like Hitchcock with his women, he locates (or makes) sculptures that are exemplars for, rather than simple examples of, types.  For Hitch it was blondes – be they icy, clever, cunning, pert, or amusing; for Tannatt – um, well, all of these words might apply, and a few others besides.

I recall a show that started with Mateo visiting an empty storefront on nearby Wilshire Blvd., and that included reference to that visit as well as the space, and then the work spun outward, geographically and intellectually, encompassing a conceptual rooftop experience, accessed by climbing a ladder, an ersatz public sculpture/social space that was at first transgressed by unknowing gallery visitors, and later served as a stage for a famous performer and a string quartet. I think of The Thirty-nine Steps and wonder what would have happened if Hitchcock had directed film versions of Brecht/Weill operas, like Silbersee, and Mahagonny. Finally, I think how glad I am to have another way to think about Mateo’s work, and I want to spend time considering the cinematic nature of what I’ve seen by him to date.

(I’ wish I could make a reference to John Cage and mutter, “Boy – was that some altered piano! har de har”, but having thrown it out there, I’ll refrain.) (Prepared piano, Geoffrey. Get your references correct.)

Mateo Tannatt, Instrumental Music is open at Marc Foxx through June 23.

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