Archive for the 'Digital Art' Category

Grotto

I’m looking for the entrance to the basement of Triple Base to check out Elyse Mallouk’s Trickle-down: Yours for the Mining when the gallery attendant emerges from the back room and points out a little hatchway inside the front window.
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A perilous looking hatchway. A neck-breaking descent. With disclaimer.
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That’s what’s been missing in the exhibits I’ve been attending: the element of danger.
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Downstairs, a single light dangles inches from the ground in the center of the basement. In the corners of the room, placed at angles at varying heights are several reflecting panels. Projectors affixed to the ceiling display images of animated diamonds whose reflections crawl along the surfaces of the walls and floor. One of the mirrors was displaced somehow, so the man positions it back into its niche before disappearing into the back room.
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It’s frankly pretty beautiful, and the slightly cartoonish rendering of the faceted gemstones only adds to the sly presentation. They’re items endowed with an almost mystical appeal, the power of what they represent seemingly more real than the objects themselves. In the dark with the swirling shapes dancing around you, you could imagine yourself in a cave full of the genuine article. The inability to take hold of them has a strong symbolic resonance. Well worth your time to take a trip down this particular rabbit hole.

Boundary Testing

Entering from the fat end of tunnel, I stare down its length to view the projected image: branching straw-colored fibers revolving in the unhurried fashion of a carousel. They’re not quite recognizable, but neither are they unfamiliar. They remind me of dendrites splitting off from a neuron, partly because the resolution has about it that cloudy/sharp dichotomy and uniform coloring (or lack thereof) I associate with electron microscope images.
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It is in fact the digital model of a plant, although you’d be excused for not identifying it as such straight away. Pae White, with the help of an animator and visual effects artist, scanned the original and then proceeded to tweak the image and set it in motion. As it pirhouettes, the limbs fold in upon one another, collapsing and expanding in kaleidoscope fashion. Inside the trapezoidal structure installed within New Langton Arts’ second floor gallery space the glass walls reflect the forking growths tumbling and morphing. Recognition plays a part in In Between the Outside-In, but perhaps only in so far as to intimate that what we thought we knew isn’t as matter-of-fact as we’d like to believe, or that there are ways of knowing that have yet to be exhausted.

As you can imagine, White’s mixed-media work is really an experience more than it is a work. You need to get inside the Willy Wonka-esque edifice yourself to fully appreciate the artist’s ability to make the mundane appear so alien. Elsewhere in the gallery, projected against a wall, is another example of the fruits of White’s experimentation, this one appearing like languid tendrils of smoke. Patience is required for the works to achieve their full effect, but that probably won’t be a problem: only the most phlegmatic of individuals, coming up the stairs and turning their head wouldn’t be drawn into the weird organic psychedelic constructions.

Friendly Fire

While Giant Robot is wrapping up Game Over / Continue? today, a celebration of gaming’s colorful roots, across town artist Tim Roseborough is casting a more jaundiced eye on the medium’s current state which is walking a tightrope between simulation and coy romanticism.
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No One Dies In a Make Believe War is Scenius’ inaugural exhibition, having just opened their door on that stretch of Treat St. lined with cell-like business spaces where Iceberger once resided. Opposite the entrance, above the gallery’s desk, an unblinking eye stares back at you. The sharp report of rifle fire attends each cycling of the projections on the wall, mimicking the sensation that your view is that of the zoom lens of a gamer’s sniper scope. Lining the walls to either side are digital images of a desert landscape and a solitary soldier, the latter with that mannequin stiffness of posture which characterized 3D-modeling circa the late Nineties, around the time of the first game in the Half-Life series.

Graphics have improved by leaps and bounds since then, but the boxiness of anatomy and features helps to heighten the contrast to the elements Roseborough has added that don’t normally get rendered into pixelated form. In the first image to the right of the doorway, the soldier supports himself on the ground, body parts jutting out at hard angles, as a pool of blood spills out from his knee. A splotch of red indicates a chest wound looking like a chunk carved out of a plaster wall.

The view of the surrounding landscape, when it is visible in the pieces, bears that starkly utilitarian minimalism of early deathmatch maps, where all that was needed was cover and sniping bungalows. Accordingly, the buildings are simple box shapes stacked one on top of another, with the same repeating texture that could denote worked stone, stucco or the wall of an aluminum shack. Littering the ground in some of the wide shots, the bright crimson against the dull yellow of the sand indicates the scattered remains of a casualty, positioned at the margins to exploit the oblivious gaze made famous in Pieter Brughel the Elder’s Landscape With the Fall of Icarus. In other works the mutilation of war is front and center. Roseborough floats a decapitated head in a circle of blood and presents a fallen grunt whose lower jaw has been blown completely away, the shreds of meat lying nearby.
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Whereas it may seem like the reality depicted in war games is sanitized due to the squeamishness of developers and the buying public, the truth is that neither are necessarily adverse to gory details. Companies seek to both bring down a game’s rating to maximize the buying audience and avoid it being effectively banned in some countries due to the vagaries of their particular classification system. The result is the bloodless pantomimes in which death means a quick reload or a period of clock-watching before the player can return to the action. Right now fierce debate is playing out on game sites surrounding a planned game from Konami set during one of the most deadly operations of the Iraq War. Interestingly, despite the fact that the media is often accused of inherent bias for not reporting on the grim realities of warfare, G4TV recently interviewed some soldiers who wouldn’t mind a game that better reflects the realities and costs of combat. Says one, “Let it be made, and hopefully it will bolster support for military veterans by giving civilians insight into what this war was actually like for them…”

Skeleton Bath

I wasn’t able to find, either on Toomey Tourell Fine Art’s site or elsewhere on the web any of the images featured in their current show by Ying Yefu or Perk (a collaboration between Si Wei and Jin Ningning) that so blew me away during my visit. There is one ink jet print by Perk available for viewing, but it didn’t hit me as hard as their other works, one of a multiplying cartoonish child whose other selves recede into the distance comes to mind. It reminded me of the comic art of Frank Quietly in Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles of a colorful time traveller who leaves behind after-images of her passing that trail behind like a great caterpillar.

The good news is that Ma Liang’s work from Shanghailand is well represented on the gallery’s site (the images reproduced here are much smaller so be sure to head over there to take in all the details). It was Peng and Ying Yefu’s work that caught my eye as I was passing by en route to a different gallery in the art megaplex that is 49 Geary St., but Ma Liang’s digital prints were such engrossing compositions that I settled in for a good long stare.
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The Book of Taboo series is more playful than remonstrative. You won’t find the Seven Deadly Sins here, and if these are indeed reproaches of some kind, they take forms so absurdist and fairy tale-like that you can’t help but be charmed rather than alarmed by the obsessions of the characters. I’m not sure how the piano player, for instance, found himself in such a state in Book of Taboo 9, 2006, but I wish him a speedy recovery: the horses are restless.
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Framed

The Summer Reading exhibit at the Hosfelt Gallery got me thinking about framing of artwork and what it does to our perceptions.

There is of course the picture frame, whose practical purpose seems to be to create handles with which to make a painting more readily portable. But conceptually it defines the boundaries of an interior space where the action is happening, so to speak. Frescoes and murals have no such borderlines. From the villas of Pompeii to the alleys of San Francisco’s Mission District, the scene ends when you’ve run out of wall space. They superimpose an imagined landscape onto the architectural landscape whereas a picture frame evokes the sensation of peering through a window frame. The former is a shared experience, public. The latter is usually a more private experience and shares qualities with other constructions designed for private viewing. Restricting our scrutiny often has a compensatory basis. There are the mutoscopes of old. There is of course the peepshow. Duchamp famously borrowed this perspective to turn anyone viewing his work Etant donnés into an unintentional voyeur.

But I’m less interested in the why than the what. Obviously there are examples of contained presentation that are public viewing experiences, like puppet shows (which in turn gave way to children’s toy theaters, private again). But I think there is a psychological shift that occurs when our focus is constrained, that allows a child to enlarge and inhabit the space of a doll house for example while their mind erases the contradictory Brobdingnagian world around them. Selective attention is the term for our mind’s ability to filter out the auditory cacophony of a busy street so that we can focus on a friend’s conversation. There is something similar going on when we scrutinize a triptych: we ignore the adjoining panels and wooden rim and get in the right “frame of mind” to view a single picture.

Summer Reading is an invitation to artists to provide a “conceptual response” to “stories, characters and texts.” Books are of course another container of meaning. While they are literally “bound” at the spine, like a painting in a frame they also describe circumscribed territory. A story isn’t just what it’s about, it’s also what it isn’t about. The words enjoin the reader to manufacture the architecture that will define the world of a story and to reject what doesn’t fit. You wouldn’t expect a spaceship to land next to the Ramsays on their way to the lighthouse. Books and borders seem to require us to restrict our view to open it up.

Su Blackwell’s contribution to the show is a series of black box dioramas mounted to the wall at eye-level. She uses the actual pages of books like The Secret Garden as her building material, constructing origami-like structures or two dimensional objects tatooed with text. An open book provides ground level: an ocean, a forest floor (which interestingly enough in an actual wood is referred to as the “understory”). Inside each a scene in miniature plays out. A sailboat on a sea of slitted paper departs from a moving carousel of boats. Tiny lights illuminate the steps to a circus stage where an elephant climbs a ladder of words while a woman dangles from a ring high above. In another a forest of letters sprouts from the open pages of the book. Like Jean Marais in the closing moments of Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast, a girl has seemingly leapt upright from her supine position affixed to the two dimensional confines of an illustration plate on the left hand page. Still attached to the page at her feet where the paper has folded her into a popup, she seems lost in this wood, immobilized in eternal flight like the characters in Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn. But all is evidently not lost: in another she sits on the grass with a friend and the bristly limbed trees have been replaced with a friendlier looking lush canopy of type. It was Blackwell’s pieces that really got me thinking about framing. I have always loved dioramas since I was a kid. Their appeal is strong enough that at the turn of the century they sat beside the mutoscopes in seaside arcades where the visitor could for some small change lose themselves in the mechanical perambulations of circus performers, farmers, and opium den habitues darting about within their glass boxes. Each is a tiny world of captured time.

Next up we have Jim Campbell’s strange conceptual piece. A gutted, weather beaten copy of Webster’s Dictionary (Unabridged) is affixed to the wall. A tail of wire slithers down the wall into a metal box where, I assume, the bulk of the electronic guts that make the work function are crammed. The metal box is inscribed “The Bible 3186313 characters.” This is I Have Never Read the Bible and if you haven’t read it yet either, this installation won’t remedy that. Every second or so, a hidden speaker blurts out a letter pronounced in a whisper with an accompanying tone. The tones are similar to the kind you’d hear by pressing a digit on a child’s plastic toy phone. The letters arrive in uneven spurts with a kind of whispered hush. This is a sequenced presentation of the Good Book which the gallery’s website assures me is achieved by LED technology (as in his installation at BAM), but I have no idea how that could work. I’m also guessing that this is the King James Version as it is generally the most well known and well regarded because of its rich prose but this is complete speculation. If you’re dying to make sense out of the galloping succession of consonants and vowels I wish you luck. For fun I spent a long while trying to transcribe and identify the specific passage being spoken. It ended up being tougher than it sounds because of the distracting electronic chime that complements each letter. My results were less than edifying:

SOSTHESEAINTOURHANTRETHEITLIVE

BLOODOSYOURWILLIREQUATTHEHANDOSEVEVERYBEASTWILLIREQUIR

THINGTHATLIVETHSHLLBEMEATSORYOUEVENASTHEGREENHERBHAVE

THEHANDOSMANATTHEHANDOSEVERYMANSBROTHER

I suspect Moses was, among other things, a really good listener.

Finally, an interesting “there and back again” exercise from Amy Hicks called Readaptation: The Book Series. This is a short video that takes clips from movie adaptations and superimposes them over copies of the source material. At times, a pair of eager hands is visible preparing the book for viewing, slyly sheathed in disposable rubber gloves for the science gone wrong future of Blade Runner and fondled by fingers with shockingly red nail polish for the horror domestic Stepford Wives. Achieved by stop motion, in each segment a book scoots about the frame before spilling open its content. As pages flip by at a furious pace, inside a black taped off space in the center we see film footage of Rachael smoking a cigarette and the owl at Tyrell Corporation springing from its perch into flight. This from the aforementioned Blade Runner which was adapted from Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The printed text of the original novels is visible outside the taped border, changing with a rapidity that would make Jim Campbell’s piece blush. These days film has seemed to have superseded the printed word and you get the impression that the more juvenile medium has pushed to the front of the family portrait, obscuring her older sister and is mugging for all your attention. Dare I mention the word palimpsest? For many of us whose exposure to a work is from the cinema, our idea about the contents of a book is the equivalent of a film projection upon its pages.

Boxes, borders, boundaries: the Hosfelt’s exploration into representations of books unpacks the contents of the printed word while simultaneously cramming them back into a frame. If stories offer escape, it is to a bounded space into which we project something of ourselves. The three artists I’ve discussed here (there were many more involved in the exhibit) impose a perspective onto printed works, each of which feels like an opening of a new space, a temporary room within the mind.

Persistence of Memory

Standing ten to twenty feet back I can’t make out anything. Splotches of dark and shade shuffle about on the wall until washed away as waves of white overwhelm them. It’s something like the effect of someone passing back and forth close to the lens of a projector. I rejoin my friend Amy at the benches in the back of the gallery and slowly images begin to be perceptible with a bit of concentration. What looks like a DC3 is coming in for a landing. As it nears touchdown, it’s whisked away and something new is rushing madly in front of our eyes taunting us to identify it.

We’re checking out Jim Campbell’s installation at BAM, the latest work in his Home Movies series. The exhibit takes up the entirety of the far wall and is constructed of vertical hanging wires with LED lights attached at regular intervals pointing toward the wall. Light Emitting Diodes are much more ubiquitous than i realized. According to How Stuff Works, they’re the common element for providing the number displays on everything from alarm clocks to microwaves. Pop an LED bulb onto a transistor and pass a current through them and you get light, even in the infrared spectrum (invisible to the human eye) depending on the conductive material used in the diode. They generate very little heat and lacking a filament that will eventually burn out last a long time. Campbell has coordinated the charge passing through each individual diode so that they collectively project moving images on the wall. Since an LED only needs to be illuminated when light is present in its sector of the grid, a buzzing noise rises and falls in pitch as more or less of the diodes are in use. At times it’s a pleasant constant hum and at others, when the image is flooded with white, it’s like the droning of a swarm of mosquitos.

All the footage is acquired; scraps of amateur film stock that Campbell has accumulated over time. They are the typical fare of the home movies of the piece’s title, with the notable exception, as far as I noticed, of human subjects. What I did make out was the aforementioned plane, footage taken from the window of a moving car, a slow pan down a waterfall. This is the perception of a world in motion, the distinctly modern apprehension described in the book by my friend Sarah’s professor Mitchell Schwarzer appropriately titled Zoomscape. Arrivals and departures, discrete segments of journeys now running together and colliding as they loop back upon themselves.

What compels us to record these moments? It’s surely not for posterity. The fact that the footage Campbell is using was discarded is fairly telling. They were quite frankly doomed in any case as the unrelenting march of planned obsolescence replaces existing recording devices for the next media type and player. Outsourced memory has a shelf life. I think about the piles of documents sifted through and compiled for presentation at The Chinese of California exhibit. Paper hasn’t proved obsolete just yet. Will future generations be able to extract all the data of the digital age? Already video games that I played as a kid exist only as code on some superseded format. Campbell has chosen to resuscitate source material of unknown provenance. Resurrected from film or tape to digital file format what do these dimly recognizable landscapes and subjects have to tell us? If there’s anything we can say with certainty it’s that the importance of the captured images was wholly personal. The subjects are preserved, but their initial meaning is lost, probably forever.

In George Johnson’s book Fire in the Mind there is a dizzying chapter on information theory. Advocates in the scientific community believe that information may actually exist as a discrete form of matter or energy (which as Einstein hinted are just two sides of the same coin). One goes so far as to declare that we could one day power a car using information alone. Somewhere in the world of the quanta subatomic particles of information are zipping about, waiting for us to identify them. If I mucked that up Mr. Johnson, forgive me, for even in school I had problems with the Second Law of Thermodynamics. I was incredulous that anyone could quantify disorder. If a dried-up leaf was blown an inch or two to the right was there more disorder than there was before? It seemed so subjective. And so it is with information. What value, if any, does meaning add to information? How do you measure meaning? The images that blossomed on the wall across from us or were wiped away as if a rolling paint brush had obliterated them: how much meaning did they have left as the private become public?

This is what is so curious about the installation. Because the projections of the array are so blurred, it takes some degree of effort to make them out. There is the strange feeling that if you tried hard enough you would not only be able to identify the images but remember them. They beg to be understood. This is eerily similar to the latter half of Wim Wender’s film Until the End of the World wherein a machine is introduced that can project a user’s dreams. The character Claire becomes obsessed with viewing the resulting grainy playback, attempting to decipher the products of her own mind, which while familiar are created by some locked away part of her consciousness. Campbell’s curtain of lights constructs a kind of archaeology of moments. They are engrossing and unsettling in their ambiguous origin, lost until the day perhaps when we discover a quark of meaning fluttering about in the cloud of the charmed and the strange.