Culture- ART FEATURE- In sync: Coffey and Wostrel play well together

Atop a pedestal in the back of Richmond's 1708 Gallery, a hemisphere of bone-colored porcelain cones blooms— points in, open mouths out— resembling a deep-sea coral formation or perhaps a bit of honeycomb housing the world's largest wasps. The piece is visually striking, but there's more here than meets the eye– literally.

As viewers pass their hands above the sculpture, altering how light falls on each cone, strange sounds emerge– whirrs, squeaks, plinks, rattles— irresistibly urging people to create spontaneous compositions. The work, "Ping," is just one example of the kind of genius that emerges when Charlottesville computer musician Ted Coffey (Facetime, "Computerized Coffey," April 18) and his wife, ceramics artist Rebekah Wostrel, combine their talents.

Expressing Coffey's interest in interactive performance and Wostrel's artful sense of humor, each of the couple's collaborations in their current exhibition, "Absorption & Flow," depends on viewers' willingness to play for success. 

In "Suspension no.3: Open Threads," Wostrel strings together columns of rectangular tiles featuring myriad combinations of glazed and unglazed surfaces, and suspends them from 1708's ceiling to form a video screen. Meanwhile, Coffey has rigged a nearby camera to capture viewers' movements as they walk in front. An attached computer runs the recorded images through a changing series of programs and immediately projects the results onto the tiles. Simple gestures suddenly generate waves of indigo trails, and quick actions transform into abstract designs of oversized pixels.

In addition to their joint efforts, the two artists also display strong individual works. Coffey's sound piece, "Bad Sync," hilariously disrupts viewers' expectations of communication in the space-time continuum. Standing at microphones located at opposite ends of the room, two visitors don earphones. While chatting, they manipulate joysticks that change the modulation and speed with which they hear their partner's and their own voices. Participants can variously sound like characters in a cartoon or monsters in a horror movie.

On the other side of the room, Wostrel presents the latest in her ongoing exploration of Zen-like oppositional combinations. For this series, she takes the lowly, heavy plumb bob, and repeatedly recreates it in delicate and sensuous white porcelain, adding a fur "tutu" here or a bit of cobalt glaze there. Nestled in silver-stemmed rings arcing gracefully from the wall, the plumbs occasionally offer sly winks of naughtiness, such as the pierced white fluff atop "Plumb Chubbette." 

The beauty, innovation, and sheer fun of Coffey and Wostrel's work make the long slog to Richmond well worth the effort.

Ted Coffey and Rebekah Wostrel's "Absorption & Flow" is on view at the 1708 Gallery through May 26. 319 W. Broad St., Richmond. 804-643-7839.