Delighting Ear and Eye

Anthony Luensman '88 brings his ingenious installations to his alma mater

Anthony Luensman '88 creates art that stimulates the ear as well as the eye. In October, he unveiled "Eolian," an installation of his aural art, in Olin Gallery.

Luensman draws from a range of seemingly disconnected talents. The Cincinnati-based artist sculpts and paints, plays the saxophone and flute, composes music and verse, and rewires circuitry. Much of his art encourages interactivity, as buttons and joysticks invite the viewer to participate and hear the sounds that the works make.

"I have concerned myself with the creation of original musical instruments and sound devices," Luensman writes. "Ears and eyes work in tandem until the piece reaches the point where it may stand alone as a sculpture or be sounded as an instrument."

Luensman both painted and sculpted during his days as a Kenyon student. At the time, he was interested in music but did not pursue it formally. He later found himself struggling to balance sound and visual art.

He brought the two interests together through the Saw Theater, a Cincinnati-based puppet theater company that produces original multimedia works, which he cofounded in 1994. "No traditional instrument really fit the atmosphere," Luensman explains. "So I began to create my own sound with original instruments." The instruments formed the basis for Luensman's interactive sound sculptures.

One of these sculptures, Thunder Vats and Motor Rain, features two large steel tanks that have been transformed into giant subwoofers. Their pitch can be changed with the toggle of a nearby joystick. Sound also plays a role in Ohio Tru-action Cowzandpigs. Viewers direct music that vibrates a suspended steel lid and moves miniature cows and pigs around the surface.

Other works in "Eolian" evoke Luensman's college memories. "I'm a huge fan of Kenyon," he says, "and I have a great deal of affection for it." In Peirce, Chalmers, and Church, Luensman configured five bicycle horns to emit speeches by past Kenyon presidents and the late Professor of English Philip Church. When the Church horn would speak, the presidential horns would fall silent and turn toward Church. This effect is both humorous and, in its way, reverent.

"Church was a brilliant professor and a real performer in the classroom," Luensman remembers fondly. "He brought text to life." Luensman dedicated "Eolian" to the memory of Church.

Luensman's return to Kenyon was supported in part by the Mesaros Visiting Artists' Fund. As a visiting artist, Luensman assigned a project to two classes taught by Professor of Art Claudia Esslinger. He also met with senior art majors to discuss their work and delivered a public lecture about his art.

Luensman's works arouse curiosity and feature touches of humor that amuse people of all ages. One Cincinnati Enquirer columnist called his display of commissioned works in that city's family-oriented UnMuseum an "after-school urban adventure." And a group of Kenyon students at "Eolian" was fascinated with a child's toy monkey that was rigged to play a clip of Austin Powers asking, "Would you like to touch my monkey?"

Luensman does not aim his works toward any particular age group. "I like to create delight, no matter what the age," he says.

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