Scoundrel Time

Pandemic Sound Scrolls

Since we’ve been sheltering in place, I’ve become so much more aware of the sounds I’m hearing: neighbors clapping from their windows at 7pm; birds (with a nest?) somewhere up on my roof; wind, rain, leaves rustling outside my window; the purring of my two cats; and even the sound of my own breath. Beautiful sounds I may have taken for granted before, or sounds that lay below louder, more constant, city sounds from pre-Covid days.

Before Covid, I was working on a long-term collaborative project with a musician who is based in Berlin. “This like a dream keeps other time” is a multidisciplinary installation incorporating sound, video, and sculptural elements. We worked together last year, at the Dora Maar House, an artist residency in France run by the Brown Foundation, and we worked virtually via Zoom. For the last leg of our project, we need to be physically in the same room together…so it’s on hold.

Instead, I’ve decided to make work from what has presented itself to me. I’m creating a set of abstract symbols for the newly resonant sounds that add beauty to my days. I’ve been drawing every day since quarantine began, using the symbols in varying order and composition depending on the day. As of today, I have thirty-five completed drawings

These sound scrolls are “fast” compared with my regular labor-intensive, time-consuming practice. For these Sound Scroll Drawings, I need only a table, a sheet of paper, and drawing materials. My rules are to use only the set list of symbols I’ve created, along with white gouache, a #2B pencil, and a medium charcoal pencil. I draw every day, but I work on more than one piece at a time, and I don’t necessarily complete a drawing in a day. I work slowly, and sometimes do more gazing out the window than anything else. But I’m always listening. Sometimes to new sounds, sometimes to those already in my head.







Nene Humphrey has exhibited in numerous museums and galleries since coming to New York in 1979. Exhibitions include the McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, TX; Mead Museum, Amherst, MA; Palmer Museum, PA; High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA; Sculpture Center, PS1 Contemporary Art Center and the Lesley Heller Workspace, New York, NY.

Humphrey has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Rockefeller Foundation, Brown Foundation, and Anonymous was a Woman among others. Her work has been written about in numerous publications including The New York Times, Art in America and ArtNews and Sculpture Magazine.

Since 2005 she has been artist in residence at the Joseph LeDoux neuroscience lab at NYU where her work has focused on explorations of the brain mechanisms underlying human emotions.