Technology and Imagination
By Nick Sousanis
May 18, 2006
The Gallery Project collective has been staging consistently solid and coherent shows each centered on a particular theme. They’ve taken up issues focused enough to hold together while broad enough to allow in a great diversity in artworks and artists involved. This remains the case with the current exhibition dealing with technology, specifically, at least according to the show statement, that of digital technology. This statement (though a bit awkward as a piece of literature) is thought provoking as to the potential for art in the digital age – positing the digital “as both tool and medium,” and thus the art produced can be “viewable, clickable, playable, downloadable, portable, wearable, tangible, and intangible.” All in all, an excellent description of what transpires within this varied and rich exhibition.
A good place to dig into a discussion of the exhibition begins with Danielle Aubert’s year’s worth of Excel Drawings, which she’s printed out from the database program and pinned up on an entire wall. These formalistic abstractions owe their success to Aubert’s rigor and discipline. This is a serious body of work – she’s created unique designs and images on each one – ranging from brightly colored op-art-like imagery to complex tiling patterns. They hold up as both distinct images and as part of this process of using a tool found on most people’s desktops and transforming it into an artmaking device – something for which it was never intended, yet something, as Aubert has shown, it does quite well.
Rocco DePietro III’s work also uses computer software to generate artworks, though he utilizes math graphing software which results in more painterly like imagery. Curator Ryan Molloy modified the video game Pac-Man, and used that interface to generate artworks. Specifically in playing the game, which is projected on the gallery’s rear wall, Pac-Man’s interaction with other elements of the game initializes this production of abstract elements. The concept of a game driving artwork is pretty interesting (though those looking to sharpen their ghost-dodging, pellet eating skills, may find game play a little disappointing!)
CCS professor Gary Schwartz displays a series of time lapse videos shot in or around Austin, Texas. As usual Schwartz makes very cool animations – the camera rotates through 360 degrees as time flies by – but it’s not quite clear how this relates to digital technology. That said, it’s always a treat to see Schwartz’ work, and the same can be said for Ben Ridgeway’s animated cartoon, “Tic Tac Continuum” shown on three slightly desynchronized monitors (interesting, as much of the imagery deals with clocks) and referencing animation styles both old and new.
It does seem as if the theme gets a bit too broad, which doesn’t diminish the artworks shown, just the intensity of focus on this particular issue. Case in point is Heather Elliot-Famularo’s “Fuzzy Math,” consisting of a row of 9 video monitors mounted on the wall. They are linked together by a string of symbols also mounted to the wall, as if within the operators of a mathematics equation. Each monitor loops on a singular theme: the first has news clips from the attack on Iraq, the second Bush speaking, the third is scenes from 9/11, the fourth bin Laden, Saddam, and so on. By linking together the various videos through the mechanics of the equation, she leads the viewer through the various factors to produce a final result – a static-filled TV. The piece as a whole offers strong commentary on the state of affairs surrounding terrorism, war, and politics, and is achieved through a pretty compelling interface.
One clear advantage the computer has brought has been in expanding the possibility for collage and various effects almost unimaginable previously. Colin Blakely offers prints of suburban scenes coupled with impossibly low hanging clouds, and the unrendered framework of a digital landscape. The surrealism of the imagery is effective and engaging, but the elements do feel a bit forced together – seamless in execution but perhaps not in purpose. Like Blakely, Joshua Walton works with digitally composited images – combining photos, text, and other elements to create more design-oriented and socially conscious work. Scott Owsley’s works with digitally scanned prints in panoramic format. One such print on display is “Ghost Cluster,” with imagery resulting from the “interlacing” of two separate photographs of a landscape, shot as “drivebys.” The result is something that holds together as a single image, but contains two distinct layers of information within the composition. This is both commentary on the nature of computer displays, as well as a unique presentation of such imagery in static format.
In the basement, one first encounters Michael Rodemer’s “Verdun and the Like,” an assemblage of numerous counters equipped with blue or red LEDs facing off against each other attached to batteries and microcontrollers in the respective colors. Without knowing the title at first, my mind immediately went to war body counts – an image which is reinforced by the intermittent rat-a-tat-tat of the counters and their blinking LEDs. Battle lines drawn, this is a powerful abstraction, made more so by learning of the title, and its reference to that particular World War I battle which resulted in the deaths of a quarter of a million people. An event we seem not to have learned from.
Also in the basement is Elona Van Gent’s animation “Fallen” featuring a human-like elastic character, which she also has a solid sculptural model display on the wall. The animation is graceful, as this figure falls, glides, bounces, dances, and flies across the screen. This work highlights the creation of other worlds that has been made possible through the digital, and is an absolutely necessary component of the show. (It might be nice to more clearly differentiate Van Gent’s and Rodemer’s pieces, as while they seem unrelated, their location hints at mistaken association.)
Going back upstairs, Heidi Kumao displays an augmented bra, dress, and corset, along with accompanying video showing these technologically enhanced clothing articles in action. We see her waving at a train, and its loud whistle activating lights running vertically along her dress. The bra performs similarly, and the video in which she reveals how these things work, she also shows a fur wrap that growls when stroked. These are a lot of fun and show how technology can and no doubt will expand the world of fashion.
Finally, we turn to Jonathan Keller’s large inkjet print, (which shares some relation to Aubert’s prints) most fully realizes the concept of this show (the digital as tool and medium) and delivers a compelling visual – one that truly could not be produced in any other fashion. Without delving into exactly how this composition of delicate lines forming stars and arcs resembling a celestial map of sorts, was created, it is a visual map of a part of the landscape that is the Internet. This is incredibly rich terrain – a world that is at our fingertips all the time, yet hardly comprehended by but a few, and completely lacking a visual depiction. Keller has transformed the intangibility of the net into something solid, and in the process something quite beautiful.
While this exhibition may get loose from the self-established boundaries it sets out to explore, it produces the goods with a diverse, yet complementary body of strong works that allow the viewer to enjoy and think on how the digital age affects art and ultimately our world itself.