Maui-born Artist Andy Graydon Paints With Sound

The Honolulu Museum of Art opens a sound installation this week.

Editor Notes: Through our partnership with the Honolulu Museum of Art, HONOLULU Magazine publishes a monthly blog written by Lesa Griffith, the museum’s communications director and a talented Hawai‘i writer on arts, culture and food.

The Honolulu Museum of Art this week opens a new installation that offers visitors art they can’t see.

Graydon’s Fig. 1 (these things we know). This note came with an object that is described in the installation, but is not actually present.


Last week, visiting artist Andy Graydon was in the Hawai‘i Public Radio studio with Puakea Nogelmeier, the guru of ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i (and holder of one of the most distinctive, sonorous voices on the island), in preparation for Graydon’s Fig. 1 (these things we know), opening at ARTafterDARK on Feb. 27.


Born and raised on Maui, Graydon is now an emerging artist on the international art scene and based in Cambridge, Mass., where he lives with his wife and son.


The project is the museum’s first purely sound installation—when you enter the gallery there will be nothing to look at. You will be immersed in the sound of Graydon’s and Nogelmeier’s voices as they describe objects from the museum’s collection that Graydon selected last summer when he was here doing research for Fig. 1 (these things we know).


“It went great,” Graydon says about the recording session. “Puakea is amazing. Everyone at the radio station knew him and that’s where I learned he’s the voice of TheBus. I realized how iconic his voice is.” (When Graydon said early on he would need someone to translate and read text in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i, the museum suggested Nogelmeier, a professor at the Kawaihuelani Center for Hawaiian Language at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Thankfully, he agreed to participate in the project.)


“Puakea really understood what I’m reaching for,” says Graydon. “He admitted the translation process was really complicated and was satisfied with the results.”


Graydon had written detailed text about 10 objects, from cultures all over the world, including Hawai‘i. The works include a 5,000-year old Chinese jade block. The words are both descriptive and poetic. Nogelmeier recited the text of five objects in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i, and Graydon recited the text on the other five in English.


“We talked about how it wasn’t so much a matter of translating words as translating a sphere of experience from English to Hawaiian,” says Graydon. “Puakea had a total command and it was a pleasure to witness.”


Next Graydon edited the recordings. “I listened to pieces and made selects and alternated the voices. We recorded all his pieces at once, then recorded all my parts at once.”



When the installation is complete, visitors will hear the two voices before they enter the gallery, where they will find stanchions and ropes forming a spiral path. Graydon says he wants to pique people’s interest with the walkway and also echo a medieval labyrinth, which was a mnemonic device and echoed spiritual pilgrimages. Turning corners as the recorded descriptions alternate helps visitors “place” the objects that are materializing in their minds.


Graydon believes museum goers will naturally assume the Hawaiian descriptions are simply translations of the English descriptions, when they are actually about completely different objects. (Do you follow? We know it’s complicated!) Graydon’s goal is to reveal how objects and spaces are given significance by ritual, performance and social structure as much as by the tangible forms themselves. Replacing the actual objects with sound highlights this phenomenon.


The artist is interested to hear from speakers of ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i who visit the installation, knowing they will have a level of experience and engagement that he can’t.


Graydon also worked with museum staff to select a paint color for the gallery and have speakers installed, then played the piece in the gallery to see if it needed to be adjusted. “I needed to make sure it’s not too rushed or too long, and listened to hear whether the filtering and frequencies matched the room’s acoustics,” explains Graydon.


He is simultaneously working with five artists who are participating in Garden Paths, a public performance related to Fig. 1, which takes place on Saturday, Feb. 28. Each performer will be stationed in a museum courtyard, reciting a detailed description of one of the objects included in Fig. 1. Then the performers will make their way to Central Courtyard where they will form a sort of chorus, a mobile-like work of sound.


Fig. 1 (these things we know) opens Feb. 27 during ARTafterDARK.


Lesa Griffith is director of communications at the Honolulu Museum of Art. Born in Honolulu, one of her early seminal art experiences was at the Honolulu Museum of Art, when on a field trip her high school art history teacher pointed out that the ermine cape in Whistler’s Portrait of Lady Meux was not just a cape—it was visual signage leading viewers’ eyes through the painting.