Artists Amanda Hughen and Jennifer Starkweather have taken the “unique forms and patterns derived from constructed systems and natural movements around a specific locus” to inform their work currently showing at Electric Works, The Airport Project.
Taking as their starting point seven airports, Hughen and Starkweather set to work incorporating vast amounts of data as dutifully as any machine, describing the arcs of departing planes in long bead-like strings that radiate outward from a common origin. The patterns that emerge, of spirals and spokes, are painstakingly applied chains of tiny dabs and splashes of paint. The abstraction of human movement en masse takes the form of willowy branches and fireworks. I was reminded of the hidden beauty found unexpectedly in mechanically captured images tracking patterns of movement over time, like the famous image of particles in CERN’s bubble chamber. There is also the suggestion of wood grain in patterns delicately rendered in graphite and ink in several of the pieces (growth being another kind of change and movement over time, if a subtle one).
There are elements here that are built out of the visual language of images created and generated mechanically: the aerial photograph, the displays of air traffic controllers, the war room computer models of parabolic trajectories (real and imagined for the big screen). Yet the works themselves are in no ways direct copies of any of these things, rather, the result of a meticulous process and collaboration. They are fascinating to look at simply as compositions: the muted grayscale of concrete highways overlaid with the strings of dots and dashes. Then there are further elements that could only be possible in a work of art: the fact that the works shuttled back and forth between the artists as they evolved piecemeal nicely underscores the patterns of human movement represented in the paintings. Whereas there is often the anxiety that new technologies will render some traditional form of art obsolete, art seems particularly adept at gobbling them up as they come and regurgitating them: the medium emerges strengthened rather than weakened. Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase is a famous example of a work of art that is abetted and inspired by technology but not beholden to it. The works in Hughen and Starkweather’s series rescue abstraction designed with utility in mind and draw it back into the realm of aesthetics where the human element is restored.


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