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Artist imagines the sounds of La Verne packing houses

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Anabel Martinez
Staff Writer

Artist Kyoco Taniyama highlights the city of La Verne’s citrus industry at the virtually displayed exhibition, “Sound from the Golden Age,” on the University of La Verne’s Harris Gallery website until May 14.

Taniyama drew inspiration from the history of La Verne and became interested in learning about the significance of the citrus industry during her visit to campus last year. Taniyama said the history of La Verne sparked her interest in researching orange packing houses and she began watching old films of factories, where she noticed the original background audios were often replaced with music or soothing sounds.

“I realized when I (researched videos), I didn’t hear any noise in packing houses,” Taniyama said. “And I started wondering what kind of sound workers are listening to.”

Taniyama said she connects the sound with workers’ experiences and the missing audio was erasing a part that was important to the city’s identity.

With the help of the University’s staff and faculty members, Taniyama was able to visit real packing houses, observe orange trees and take a look at historical archives.

In the finished sculpture “Sound from the Golden Age,” the artist was able to create her version of a brass phonograph held by wooden crates resembling those originally used to transport produce, tinted with hints of black and with oranges around and in the crate.

In person, viewers can turn a brass handle on a vinyl record to listen to real audio of an orange packing house played through a horn that Taniyama created using a map.

Taniyama connects the record player she created with the movement of machinery, describing the sound as comforting.

“This movement is like a meditation. It is a metaphor for working with something and workers who are working with conveyor belts and oranges,” Taniyama said.

Taniyama was originally invited by curator Ichiro Irie and Dion Johnson, La Verne’s director of art galleries, to participate in a group exhibition of about eight artists titled “About Place,” inspired by the concept of home, location and geography, in February 2020.

However, with the closure of the campus because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the group exhibition was postponed and Irie curated Taniyama’s solo exhibition instead.

The Harris Gallery has rescheduled the “About Place” exhibition for 2022.

“I knew as a Japanese artist living in Berlin who’s traveled a lot, she’d bring me a totally unique perspective to this particular location,” Irie said.

Al Clark, professor of humanities, helped the artist during her research process and showed her history archives which included an interview with a couple from La Verne where they spoke about daily operations in a packing house, produce workers and an overview of the industry.

“Kyoco was interested in the people part of the citrus industry,” Clark said.

Clark said Taniyama spent extensive time searching for an opportunity to record the authentic sound of an orange packing house to include in her multimedia art piece.

Taniyama said soon after she returned home to Berlin from her visit to La Verne, the United States closed the border due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

“In Berlin, everything stopped. Every morning, I could feel silence and heard no sounds of human activity,” Taniyama said. “I was surprised the world was so quiet and so beautiful. And then I realized how beautiful noise is.”

Taniyama said she feels content with the final outcome of her exhibition and is curious about how others interpret the sounds.

“I think it’s really important that (Harris Gallery is) able to highlight artists of color, especially Asian artists, as a way of bringing more understanding and unity to everyone,” Johnson said.

The online exhibition includes video content displaying the sculpture in Harris Gallery with clips of its functional audio, oranges being processed in a factory and citrus trees as well as photographs and sketches for an immersive experience.

To view the exhibition, visit artsci.laverne.edu/art/exhibition/kyoco-taniyama.

Anabel Martinez can be reached at anabel.martinez2@laverne.edu.

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