Piece of Work: Billy Friebele’s “U Street Chromatic (for Duke)”
Standout Piece: Billy Friebele’s “U Street Chromatic (for Duke),” a machine and mapping project mildly packaged as a U Street identity piece, contrasting Duke Ellington’s heyday with today. Friebele has created a drum kit that resembles a crude first draft of Short Circuit’s Johnny 5. Mounted on a hacked shopping cart, Friebele has assembled a snare drum, several copper arms and mallets, and a steel-tone block. Programmed with an Arduino, the device is motion sensitive, responding to people who pass it in the gallery or the street.
Off the Map: Throughout the Hamiltonian Gallery are prints (and video) that document when and where people publicly encountered the robot, like “Sonar Drawing: Lincoln Theater, 1215 U Street, NW (where Duke’s band returned to DC to play). Kids passing, stopping, and playing, 5:12 pm.” The visual elements of the drawings—the onion-skinned paths of advancing and receding circles and lines—defy literal translations of the movements of playing kids, but they do reflect the passage of time, the mapping of space, and the varied interests of passersby. Earlier works of Friebele’s have mapped a pathway through big box stores and various foreign destinations.
Duke Is Out: Rightly so, the Duke’s relationship to the work remains in parenthesis within each title. Though Ellington may have been a determining factor for the robot’s public placement, in the end he feels more like an undeveloped character in the narrative arc of the exhibition: a relic for people less interested in the gadgets and gizmos that make the drawings.
“U Street Chromatic (for Duke)” is on view at Hamiltonian Gallery to August 2.