WexCast: Building Assembled Audience

Alana Ryder, Manager, Public and University Programs

Dec 22, 2020

A preparator applies vinyl text to a wall outside the installation Taryn Simon: Assembled Audience at the Wexner Center for the Arts

Taryn Simon: Assembled Audience combines audio of dozens of individuals clapping solo to create computer-generated rounds of applause. For the sound installation, part of Fall 2020 exhibitions at the Wex, preparators constructed a small, dark, and discrete room at the top of the ramp in our gallery space and the center's tech team installed an elaborate speaker set-up, all to create the immersive experience of being surrounded by an ovation.

For this WexCast, Alana Ryder, the Wex's Manager of Public and University Programs, talks with Senior Design Engineer Steve Jones and Exhibition Designer and Preparator Nick Stull about what went into constructing a space for Assembled Audience at the Wex. The podcast, which begins with a sample of Simon's sound work, is embedded below, along with images of the process and a transcript of the conversation.

A preparator at the Wexner Center for the Arts stands in one of the gallery spaces, surrounded by tape lines on the floor that mark out the eventual layout of the installation Taryn Simon: Assembled Audience


A process shot of the installation of the sound work Taryn Simon: Assembled Audience at the Wexner Center for the Arts

Alana Ryder: This is WexCast from the Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University. My name is Alana Ryder, and I’m Manager of Public and University Programs at the Wex.

Today I'm speaking with Senior Design Engineer Stephen Jones and Exhibition Designer and Preparator Nick Stull about the fall 2020 exhibition Taryn Simon: Assembled Audience. Hope you enjoy this behind the scenes look and new perspectives from staff.

Well, welcome Stephen and Nick.

Nick Stull: Hey, Alana. 

Steve Jones: Hey.

AR: Thanks for being here.

NS: Thanks for having us.

AR: Could you please tell us about your role at the Wex, including how long you've worked here and what a typical day looked like before the pandemic?

NS: Steve, seniority.

SJ: Gonna go first. OK. I was thinking beauty before age (laughs). Well, as she said, my name is Steve Jones. I'm the Senior Design Engineer at the Wexner Center. I have been here since 1990. I started kind of part-time in 1990 working. Just during the season and then came on full time in '91.

NS: Alright, and I am an Exhibit Designer and Preparator here and I've been working at the Wex for just about five years in this position. I started in Patron Services for about a year and then transitioned over to this side of things, because this was kind of like my main interest within the museum.

AR: Thank you. Could you both tell us how your roles have changed, I think quite dramatically since March 2020?

SJ: You know, being in the Tech Services department, mine has truly changed completely. With no in-person events, you know, everything is virtual so truly my day kind of consists of being in a room and doing webinars and streaming events and working a lot with Alana behind the scenes to produce our programs. So it's been a total change of direction, you know, since March in what we really do. And, you know, decide

NS: And for me, I mean, when the pandemic started, I was working from home primarily for a few months. So that was a huge change, but more recently in the past few months, I've been back on site for the most part. And aside from it being essentially a ghost town here and the museum currently closed. It's been sort of similar for me as far as preparing for the next shows working the wood shop doing design work on the computer. So fingers crossed, you know, the next exhibit opens on time, things will be hopefully more or less back on track, I guess, compared at least to others at the center.

AR: I know it might be hard to think of just one thing about what you enjoy about working at the Wex, but since it's the end of the year and we tend to be reflective, could each of you tell us one thing that you really enjoy about your role here?

SJ: I like all the different types of programs we present. Um, it's, it's such a wide range, you know, they're not just theater. They're not just musical. They're not just gallery installs. I mean, there's something for everyone here at the Wex and I've just I've really enjoyed that during my time here. Yeah, and seen a lot of great performances of all kinds.

NS: Yeah, yeah, I totally echo Steve on that. It is so cool to be able to work with artists and institutions to kind of create and develop stuff, especially specifically for Wexner Center shows. So yeah, I love the programming. I love the artists, we bring in, but also, I mean, at the end of the day, I love the people I work with. That really makes it great to be here.

AR: Thanks Nick and Steve. The next couple of questions are more specific about your involvement in the installation of Assembled Audience and perhaps you could start from the beginning: how you planned and designed the show with Taryn, even before work may have started in Columbus.

SJ: Yeah, from my role. It was, it's kind of odd because as we were going into this pandemic, we kind of set up a small simulation of the show. And we got some audio files from them and we played them so they could kind of hear what the room sounded like, you know, and it was kind of interesting because that was the plan even before March came, because her piece is truly an acoustical piece and the room environment matters. So we were doing that already. So that was kind of my part, to set that up and make some recordings to send them back to them and truly they were listening to how the room sounds. That was what they were very interested in, you know, for my part of getting that going in the very beginning.

NS: Yeah. And since this was an installation that originated at the MASS MoCA, I believe initially they were just showing us what they did there. And we were kind of taking a look at that and seeing how can we do it here. And as Steve said, like a lot of our shows, there's being able to translate it to the Wex and whether that's having to deal with light issues or the large vacuous space of the gallery. It's trying to kind of make it work with our situation. So yeah, it started with trying to see where it would work and how it works sound-wise. But then we also kind of dug in the layout to match, in a way, how they've done it before, but changing so it aligns to our architecture. And then as far as developing the layout, with other shows as well, it’s always about trying to fulfill the artist’s vision as well as making it logistically safe and accessible to everyone, all that stuff. So yeah, I guess we started with just basic floor plans and the sound testing to kind of get the ball rolling.

A partial installation of the space for the sound installation Taryn Simon: Assembled Audience at the Wexner Center for the Arts

SJ: And I think it was one of those pieces too that, you know, you don't always know in the beginning how much you actually need to achieve not seeing the piece or knowing the piece—how much you need to really achieve to get the maximum out of it, you know, and truly the darkness and the size of the circle and being in the center is truly, I mean... You can go stand in that room and be in the center and you're in a sweet spot. And it's amazing how it surround you. You know, you stand off to the side, it's, "This is cool. This is nice." But if you're right in the right spot, it takes your breath away. It does.

NS: Yeah, it definitely does. I mean, we want to achieve that, because we want that sensory experience that shifts from the visual to the audio, while also making it safe and allowing people to kind of see their way in and out, which I think was very successfully achieved. And I will say, I was here for the preliminary stages of this but in the middle of installation, I got called away to parental leave, so I wasn't actually here for the buildout of it. But they did have to add an extra wall as you enter the space and then some some subsequent small lighting to kind of achieve that effect that the artist wanted while also making it safe.

AR: This is all so fascinating and and thanks for sharing some specifics about the the differences in how a visitor might experience this based on where they are in the room and all of the the adjustments that happened to adapt the work for the Wex and all of its particularities, we’ll say,

Maybe another question related to the specific show is, are there any other stories or details that a visitor might not know or see on the surface if they had the chance to visit the Wex while we were open this fall, that specifically relates to the installation or details that are key to your specific roles and supporting the artists for this exhibition?

SJ: Nick, I'ma let you have that one.

AR: I heard there was something about sprinklers.

SJ: Good leading question. Yes, yes.

NS: What's the sprinklers?

SJ: Well, we always have that challenge, you know. Artists want us to build rooms, enclosed rooms, but we can't always do that. Or sometimes it's just not cost effective to do that because we have to adhere to guidelines; we have to be safe. You know, you build a room inside a room. Then you have to have some type of fire suppression or something to be in that room. In this case we had to do some type of ceiling that could still… You’re not supposed to say this in a museum but some type of ceiling that could have some type of fire suppression, because you don't want to use the word "fire" or "water" in a museum. Those are the no-nos.

NS: Maybe talk about that stuff. I went off somewhere else, but yeah, before that room we did have to buy, or purchase smoke screen. That's the kind of black fabric that we use on the walls and the ceiling. So it looks, you know, opaque or structural in appearance but if needed, it will dissolve away. 

AR: I wonder, because there are of course other exhibitions featured this fall at the Wex, would either of you care to talk about your involvement in other shows on view or any thoughts you might have about how they relate to Assembled Audience?

NS: I didn't. I wasn't very closely working on the other shows. But I was very pleased with the way they each were kind of constructed completely differently. And they visually convey something completely different, but it's all kind of about the same thing, particularly with Taryn’s and then how it relates to Tomashi’s work and stuff like that. It's all kind of about this collective action. Or about how the whole representative is the sum of its parts. So with Taryn’s work. You know, it's like each individual clap was taken to create this, you know, large body of applause, just as in the other exhibits they kind of talk about how the democratic system involves each individual vote to collectively, you know, change and shift the whole as our democracy goes. So it's kind of interesting in that sense. Individual versus the collective action or agency.

SJ: I thought they flowed very well together. You know the different pieces and you kind of sum that up very well, Nick, just because it all is something about being collective you know when they're together. I think it's, it's often that we have shows that are there always a little bit of a challenge, you know, um, you know, Bender was, you know, taking new technology and making it work on old technology with the older televisions of the new the newer cable feeds. That's part of that process, you know, and then just Tomashi, yeah that was just fun. She's so free spirited and you know I worked with her putting the soundtrack together and getting those particular items for her. And once again, you know, that hurdle of everything's done from afar. We had to upload and download, we went back and forth numerous times with different iterations of stuff and it just, yeah. And I just, I like all three works and even Free Space. How often do we take a gallery and just kind of open it up and say, you kind of follow the rules, you can come here and do something that you would like inside of a gallery on your own time. That doesn't happen very often, you know,

NS: Yeah, and to touch on that, Steve, when you were talking about making the soundtrack, given that a lot of the Wex galleries are very openly connected. They're not going to shut off in their individual rooms that are completely soundproofed. Whenever there's sound going on, you kind of want to make sure all the galleries or artists play well together. And in that sense, I think, most of the exhibits up had some sort of sound. And it played well together.

SJ: Yeah, you bring up a good point. That's something that we we kind of tried to walk around and do and make sure that it's more than just putting up speakers; we kind of point them in certain ways and put them in certain areas to try to envelop you in that space, but not encroach on another piece, you know, and we always have those challenges, especially in our galleries.

NS: And actually, Steve on the Taryn sound, one thing that people may not see or know, could you tell a little bit about the amount of speakers or the process of doing Taryn’s installation? Because there's just, there's so many speakers positioned in these specific spots.

SJ: Right, so there are there are 20 to 24 speakers and they're each on individual channels and they are spaced anywhere from one foot to five feet to 10 feet off the floor in different locations around this, and the soundtrack. Um, there's a track dedicated for each speaker that all plays at a different time in a sequence. So that's where it gives you that movement within the room.

Close-up of some of the names of participants who had their individual applause recorded for Taryn Simon's Assembled Audience

AR: I'm not sure if either of you saw this, but on Instagram last week we had four of the Test City USA team members. They were interviewed earlier this fall. So there were snippets from each of them about what it was like to actually go to these events and ask perfect strangers to clap in front of them. So we'll have to link that to to this interview. (Note: post is linked at the bottom of this page.)

SJ: That's something that I remember at the opening. I always like to go up to walk around and, you know, watch people's reactions and I noticed quite a few people—I’m reading the signage outside of the Simon and seeing them looking and kind of a light bulb went off when it listed these events in Columbus.

NS: Even that image was a display of the individual. First, the whole because when you look at that vinyl you see, just kind of its massive [list of] names and then once you kind of clue in on it. You might recognize someone's name or an event that you went to as well, so you can make a connection on an individual level.

AR: Well, thank you for walking us. It felt like we started and Taryn. But then walked down the ramp space. So thank you for that. At the beginning of this interview I think both of you might have referenced the fact that you're already working on the next show. Do you mind talking about this month, December, and what are you focused on related to climate changing and any other things that we should know about 2021 from your points of view?

NS: We're working with a variety of artists for site-specific projects. That'll be part of that show. A lot of is still in the works with a lot of moving parts, which can only mean that it's going to be a great show with a lot of interesting conversations to be had. And I think, I mean, in 2021 I'm just excited to potentially have people safely back in the space seeing this stuff in person, because there's kind of no substitute with being able to experience our work physically in the space and not just the work itself, but how it relates with the Wex architecture. It's just really important to be here. So I'm looking forward to that happening next year.

SJ: Yeah, and I guess all I can say is the Tech Services team has their work cut out for them.

NS: I think Steve has worked literally every single day since the middle of March. He might be taking Christmas, not sure yet but

SJ: That's one of the things about the tech services department, you know, we are always involved because we service the whole center. Not that others don’t, but it's just, you know, it doesn't matter what the event is, what's going on. There's someone from Tech Services that's involved, one way or the other. It might just be turning the lights on and getting out of the way. I mean, it's a small to large. But no, definitely the next show to come in is going to be—not that all of them aren’t—but it's gonna be fun as well. I get excited about challenges and there are some challenges in the next presentation. No doubt about it.

NS: Definitely

AR: Well, before we sign off, Stephen neck. Is there anything else you'd like to share?

NS: Just to say again, I'm excited for next year. And then, very much so.

SJ: And I hope we get through what's going on right now and, you know, whatever your feelings are, if you can come to the webinar or check us out online, we have something for everybody. I mean, you know, we're still here. We're still doing it.

AR: That was senior design engineer Stephen Jones an exhibition designer and prepared her next all discussing their work on the Wexler centers fall 2020 exhibition Taryn Simon: Assembled Audience. For more information on this show and all things Wex, go to Thanks to you both. And thanks for listening.

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