Adam Ferriss’s Quantum Harmonic Oscillator project is nauseating. This is a compliment, because it reflects the fact that, at certain moments, the enormous, three-channel installation truly envelops the viewer. Recently on view at the Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts in Birmingham, the roughly 20-minute work shifts from monochromatic to color as it slides from one seemingly random shape to another, all the while streaming a soundtrack tense with murmuring and pulsing tones.
Ferriss, who was born in Richmond and is pursuing his MFA at UCLA, wrote custom software that controls everything. Inside, viewers likely looked for visual anchors to rationalize an image or an idea momentarily. In many ways, this is one of the work’s main difficulties. Like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which Ferriss’s piece might find its most clear antecedent, these types of overwhelming aural and visual sequences are deeply destabilizing simply because they lack pictorial frames of reference. Ferriss truly exploits this opportunity, constructing images that more often than not have no clear center and no single point of focus.
Where the work truly succeeds is in its capacity to overwhelm the senses. Quantum Harmonic Oscillator is both a meditation and an assault. It works viewers over visually, aurally, temporally and spatially. It produces elusive associations through snippets of sound and image that seem somehow familiar. Fortunately, at that moment when nausea might slip in, the image shifts just enough to ground viewers again.
Brett Levine is a writer and curator based in Birmingham.