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Saturday, July 20, 2019 — Houston, TX 88°

Rice Public Art brings alternative birdsongs

birdnoise-installation-yi-luo
Courtesy Yi Luo

By Moses Glickman     4/16/19 9:17pm

Nina Katchadourian’s Please, Please, Pleased to Meet’cha, a temporary art exhibition occurring under the auspices of Rice Public Art, is a tad more unconventional than other site-specific art pieces. It consists, in a literal sense, of a handful of speakers tied up high in the trees of a grove outside Brochstein Pavilion.

The title of the exhibition comes from a passage in the naturalist Peterson Guide describing the call of the chestnut-sided warbler: “Please please pleased to meet’cha, penultimate note accented, last note dropping.”  This inexact description of birdsong might seem like an unlikely title for an exhibition, but, walking through the grove, one hears the faint noise of what would generously be called inexact birdsong — the sound of human voices saying “Oh-ka-lee,” “kh-sheeee” and, yes, “please please pleased to meet’cha.” Nearby plaques inform the listener that the voices are those of eleven United Nations translators, each enlisted by Katchadourian in the summer of 2006 to imitate bird calls. None had ever heard the birds they imitated; their only tools were a set of field guides with written descriptions of birdsong. 

This unorthodox sort of exhibition is not new to Katchadourian. Her most famous exhibition, Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style, consists entirely of selfies taken in airplane bathrooms. Katchadourian is not terribly concerned whether her audience is aware that they are engaging with an intentional work of art; in fact, she seems enthused with the possibility that they are unaware. 



“I want people to be a little puzzled about what they’re hearing,” she said, in an interview with Rice News. “You can explain that sound to yourself in all kinds of crazy ways, and there’s a lot of freedom — mentally and conceptually — in the thinking that we do in those moments when we aren’t quite sure what’s going on.”

This sense of unexpected encounter with art is a recurring theme within some seemingly disparate portion of Katchadourian’s oeuvre. In 1994, she sorted cars by color in 14 different parking lots; in 2006, she installed a telescope on the Manhattan sidewalk, pointing directly at the office of a local lawyer. Like both these pieces, Please, Please, Pleased to Meet'cha is public even by the standard of public art; it seems to require the viewer's confusion to fully exist.

Please, Please, Pleased to Meet'cha is on display outside Brochstein Pavilion until Sept. 30.



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