Alyce Santoro is one of those women that you think exists only in fiction; A futuristic character bravely challenging herself in the face of convention and nature wearing nothing but her own creations of a “Satellite Dish Hat,” and a “Sonorous Superhero Suit” made of fabric woven from upcycled cassette tape.
The Marfa, Texas based multimedia artist and homesteader explores new approaches to environment and society through weaving a revolutionary textile — Sonic Fabric — made of 50% cassette tapes and 50% thread. Santoro gets the tape for her upcycling project from a company that does audio books for the Library of Congress, which is slowly switching over to digital.
The large amounts of unused audiobook tape are first wound on large spools called “pancakes”and then woven on a loom from the 1940s in a small mill just outside of Providence, Rhode Island. While the futuristic fabric is odd enough to consider as part of the makeup of clothing or any other woven textile, the fact that it makes sound when woven is even more extraordinary.
In a current exhibit at the Gasser-Grunert Gallery in Manhattan, Santoro created a life-sized boat sail made from the fabric and embedded recorded samples collected on and under the streets of New York City onto the sail itself. Visitors to the show can also experience the fabric a different way by listening to it and pulling a Sonic Fabric Reader” over it, which in turn plays through a small amp.
Another part of the exhibit, “The Homeopathic Remedies for the 5 Ills of Society” is based on the premise that five “tinctures” she created can counteract Violence, Detachment, Consumerism, Alienation, and Greed when “made from dilute solutions of bullet, glue, water from Wal-Mart, emptiness, and money,” respectively.
Her nod to societal sickness and noise, in contrast with nature, was inspiration for her current exhibit.
Blame it on her new life in the desert.
Working on a solar powered sewing machine to mend clothing, creating rainwater catchment and graywater systems (as her only water source) and gardening her own food for the past six years, Santoro found herself living life off the grid and appreciating what little she did have. Still, coming fresh from city life, who she was as a consumer became amplified from all the quiet.
“I’d gotten the distinct sense that the quality of the Texas soundscape had something in it that I needed to hear. After five years of living in just-post-9/11 New York City, I felt like I could use being in a place with less frenetic sensory stimulus for awhile.”
Santoro has commented that besides the environmental and societal implications of her art, a common thread has also been to get people excited about life’s embedded “miracles.” Her recorded tracks on the Sonic Fabric are an artistic rendering of that philosophy.
“There’s so much frantic talk about the urgent need to ‘save the environment’ but how are we going to be able ‘save’ something that only exists outside of ourselves as some kind of abstraction, something we feel inherently separate and disconnected from? When we begin to sense a deep, empathic, heartfelt connection to the world around us, that is, feel that the trees, the soil, the ocean, the air are quite literally parts of ourselves, this kind of holistic worldview makes it much more difficult, if not impossible, to knowingly do harm — we take on a sense of responsibility to do whatever it takes to preserve and protect that which we love and are part of.”