Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Tinkering with technological concepts

50 Orange St, New Haven, (203) 772-2709
The Weekend Inventor
Through Oct. 31, 2009
Artist Talk and Film Screening: Thurs., Oct. 15, 6 p.m.

Not all creative thinking is created equal. Or, to put it another way, not all creative thinking runs in the same direction.

Consider technology. For most of us, the products of engineering and science are considered through in terms of their specific uses: What does this do and how well does it do it? This is in part a function of capitalism. The process of production (and creation) is submerged by commodity fetishism. The object is a miracle (and the system that creates it is miraculous). Production is hidden (a useful thing when that production occurs, as it so often does, on the backs of exploited workers).

Still, behind the products, devices, systems of our contemporary plugged-in world lie a billion acts of creativity. Creativity in design and problem-solving. Millennial breakthroughs and incremental advances. So it is in art, the creative path judged less on use value—although exchange value certainly plays a huge role—and more by criteria such as aesthetics, and philosophical and intellectual content.

These worlds aren't mutually exclusive, of course. An Apple computer, a Louis Kahn building or a 1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk have aesthetic appeal as well as utility. An immaculate vessel by a master potter has use value as well as visual appeal.

In a technological age it's inevitable that art should be concerned with technology and made with technological tools. The disparate artists showcased in The Weekend Inventor all share a skewed fascination with the technological act of creation, although this fascination finds different outlets. Their works mimic the act of creation for utilitarian purposes. Faux architectural designs. Homage and parody.

There's a Rube Goldberg (Web) quality to the wall-mounted mixed media installation by Jeff Shore and Jon Fisher (Web), "Sky Machine, River." The panoply of circuits, wires, junction boxes, motors, lights and miniature camera are connected to a large flat screen TV terminal and a pair of speakers. By videotaping a miniature film set and creating a soundtrack with a computer and an automated string instrument, "Sky Machine" offers a simulated view of a river shore with dark clouds passing overhead. It's ingenious. When the sky is relatively cloudless—the clouds are created by the filming of shifting grains of sand—the music opens up, becomes almost pastoral in tone. When the clouds roll in, the synthesized orchestration, generated in computerized response to the visuals, darkens, becomes more menacing. Although technology like this has real world applications—if one considers the contemporary media environment to be part of the real world rather than its antithesis—its employment here is purely to spur an aesthetic experience.

Rube Goldberg (and Dr. Seuss [Web]) come to mind, too, when looking at Billy Malone's finely detailed ballpoint pen drawings. Drawings like "Think, Thank, Thunk" and "Werewolf" (the latter reminded me of the Dr. Seuss story "What Was I Scared Of?" about the pale green pants with nobody inside them) depict woody contraptions with no evident purpose other than to hammer boards and panels together in odd yet compelling structures. Sort of drawings of non-existent sculptures. Malone's facility with the ballpoint pen is wonderful.

Martha Lewis' elegant watercolor and gouache paintings owe a debt to architectural and engineering design drawings as well as to maps. (They also reminded me of the technological phantasmagoria contrived by 1960's comic book artists Jack Kirby [example] and Jim Steranko [example] although I doubt those artists were any influence on Lewis.) Intricate and colorful, these geometric designs are situated within an imaginary topographical map like vast power plants in the desert or mountains. In one work, "Plan B: Stirring of Melts Using Rotating and Traveling Magnetic Fields, Phase 2: The Mechanism/Flying Carpet" (the title itself an homage to scientific papers), Lewis printed out a watercolor painting on a large sheet of paper. After crumpling the print to give it a topographical illusion of its own, she suspended it with metal wires between the ceiling and the floor. A blowing fan makes the earth move, a simulated seismic rumbling.

Architecture is an obvious touchstone for artist Jane South. South's wall sculpture "Untitled (Tracing Parameters)" is made of hand-cut paper, balsa wood and acrylic paint and takes up the better part of one wall. It reminded me of the artistic views of the future often found on the covers of Popular Mechanics magazines in the 1930's and 1940's. It is a rewarding look from a wide range of angles, beautifully executed. I was able to catch Peter Sarkisian's "Extruded Video Engine #3" (Sarkisian's Web site) the night of the City-Wide Open Studios opening; unfortunately it wasn't functioning when I returned this past Saturday.

Nathan Carter's whimsical painted sculptures are made from things like backpack frames and guitar strings. They are Joan Miro-like (Web) references to communications devices such as radios and antennas. Molly Larkey's "The Scientist" (Larkey's Web site) mounts a pile of faux-finished gold bricks atop a red and black wooden i-beam base. The work alludes to contemporary science's roots in alchemy. It is an interesting concept, and one that links the inventive technological mind to the sensibility of the artist: the transfiguration of base materials into something different and more valuable.

From Artspace: This Thursday, at 6 p.m., Weekend Inventor artists Nathan Carter and Molly Larkey will provide thought-provoking insights into their creative processes. Following their discussions, artist Martha Lewis will introduce the "inventive" film The Way Things Go (1987) by Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss.

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