Image: Tom Kotik, Out (Maximum Volume), masonite, carpet, sound /  ©Tom Kotik    ©Black & White Gallery/Project Space

Image: Tom Kotik, Out (Maximum Volume), masonite, carpet, sound / ©Tom Kotik  ©Black & White Gallery/Project Space


Tom Kotik's work for the outdoor project space at Black & White Gallery was a playful confrontation between two dueling influences: On one hand, the compositional restraint of Minimalist sculpture, and on the other, the Pop-Art vulgarity of rock music. Informed by these two poles, Out, Maximum Volume at first appeared to be nothing more than a large brown box made from high-density composite board. Situated at the center of the concrete-block courtyard, it looked like a banal container recently unloaded from a shipping truck. Once a panel on the back of the structure was opened, however, a second, smaller box emitting a muffled noise was revealed. Like a Russian doll, the second box opened to expose a third, and the noise got slightly louder. The third container, in turn, revealed a set of speakers blaring an aggressive rock song performed by Kotik's band "Mighty High" at a volume that could not only wake the neighbors, but knock curious viewers back a few feet. Kotik derived the confining architecture of the structure from simple soundproofing principles that dictate nesting rooms within rooms, but when the last lid was thrown open, the shape of the outer box acted as an amplifier rather than a containment device, forcing sound outward against the back wall of the space and turning the entire courtyard into a reverberating speaker. More than an aesthetic confrontation, Kotik views the work as an open-ended metaphor for social control. "To me, the most satisfying thing about the sound box is closing it and feeling that air-tight seal," he said. "A weird power trip goes on when you suffocate that music out." The work functioned like a Pavlovian game to many viewers, tempting them to open and close the boxes again and again, reprising the experience of losing then regaining control.