Anja Ulfeldt Makes Artwork From the Unappealing Sounds of Growing old Plumbing

Anja Ulfeldt makes visible what most of us prefer to ignore.

Oakland neighborhoods, like the one where the artist lives, are made up of aging houses and apartment buildings. The large plumbing pipes hanging on the sides of it often go unnoticed. You think, “So much rust and dirt: what an eyesore!” when you think about them at all. And the background noise of running water – from flushing the toilet to draining the bathtub – is usually a mild annoyance, not a pleasure.

The antique hand pump for “Domestic Infrastructure #3” (Photo: Courtesy of Dallis Willard)

“Of Sound l Mind and Objects,” Ulfeldt’s new exhibition at the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco, aims to prove otherwise. The artist got lucky at a local junkyard and found similarly sized pipes from demolished buildings. In the museum she assembled an entire gallery wall with these huge pipes, sealed them and filled them with water. In front of the high, white wall, the striking installation Domestic Infrastructure #3 resembles a metallic alphabet, letters in a foreign language.

But beyond its visual impact, Ulfeldt has created what she calls a “performable object”—an interactive piece that gains more meaning through active engagement rather than a passive gallery walk. The aim is to elicit a reaction from the participant through the use of sounds and physical movement.

The tubes are equipped with microphones on the outside and hydrophones on the inside. Speakers amplify the sound of the water moving up and down and around the structure. There are two ways to activate all the gurgling and splashing. You can just walk closer and the water will slowly start flowing. Alternatively, move an antique hand pump back and forth until the water begins to rise vigorously.

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