Torkwase Dyson fuses sound and architecture for St Louis installation

New York-based artist Torkwase Dyson has designed a monolithic black structure for the Counterpublic art festival in St Louis to augment sound recordings from a ragtime composer.

Called Birds and Lava (Scott Joplin), the installation comprises a massive black-painted wood structure and was constructed in a park in the Old North St Louis neighbourhood.

The installation was informed by the ragtime music of American composer Scott Joplin, and a recording of his music was played on a loop in the space to create a multisensory experience.

Torkwase Dyson installation St Louis
Torkwase Dyson designed an installation called Bird and Lava (Scott Joplin) for a St Louis art festival

Dyson said that the form of the installation was created based on “liberation from architecture and infrastructure of dispossession”.

“I pull shape language from spaces, used or constructed, that refuse environments of oppression,” Dyson told Dezeen.

“When I combine these geometries in my painting, drawings or sculptures, they become what I call Hyper Shapes. Hyper Shape compositions speak to confinement, freedom, modularity, mobility, improvisation, speed, scale and a certain stillness.”

Torkwase Dyson installation
The wooden structure was designed to complement recordings of the music of ragtime musician Scott Joplin

For Birds and Lava (Scott Joplin), Dyson took the form of the piano and its music as an organising principle for the design.

Elevated above a grassy field in a park surrounded by residential homes, the installation consisted of two large walls that frame a platform where small stools are arranged.

Each of the walls has a circle that has been cut out and pushed back, creating a passageway that augments the sound. A curved wall of slats was placed within the walls, framing the space.

“I focused on the intensity of seriality, through drawing generated orthogonal forms and then used trapezoids to produce a curvilinear grid,” said Dyson. “My hypershapes grew into architecture inspired by Joplin’s mastery over the technology of the piano.”

A recording of Joplin’s music played in the space through a speaker powered by a solar generator.

The design was meant to create a clear listening experience and to create shadows throughout the day that would complement the sound.

“I wanted to communicate sonically the construction of things like line weight, density, speed, gravity, time, and texture,” Dyson told Dezeen.

“With so many components, my aim was fusion between sound and architecture.”

Torkwase dyson St Louis installation
Dyson used curvilinear forms to reference the piano itself and to create a clear listening experience

The installation was part of the second edition of Counterpublic, a tri-annual public art festival, with works arrayed throughout the city.

Organised around Jefferson Avenue, a primary thoroughfare, the programming highlighted the legacies of dispossession in the Missouran city and included art and performances at the site of a repatriated mound constructed by Indigenous people before colonisation.

Indigenous art collective New Red Order created a billboard over the site with graphics and text that said “Give it Back”.

Also included were a series of renderings displayed at the site of the demolished Pruitt-Igoe housing projects by Chicago artist Tim Portlock, which reimagined the structures through the experiences of people who lived there.

Damon David Pillars of the Valley
A monumental sculpture by Damon Davis called Pillars of the Valley was another work on display. Photo courtesy of St Louis SC

In the city’s downtown, near a recently constructed soccer stadium, artist Damon Davis created a series of pillars, the first in a work that will run through a mile to commerate Mill Creek Valley, a majority-Black neighbourhood that was demolished through mid-century urban renewal projects.

Dyson, who usually works in paints, also created a sculpture for 2023’s Desert X art showcase in California.

Other recent installations informed by Black culture and thought in America are a “lava-like” installation by enFOLD Collective in Los Angeles and a scultpure by Lauren Halsey that showed a mix of Egyptian architectural forms with street art on top of the Met in New York.

The photography is by Chris Bauer.

Counterpublic ran from 15 April to 15 July. For more events, talks and exhibitions in architecture and design, visit the Dezeen Events Guide

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