From playful to ominous, cyberartists reflect a range of ideas through their materials
The 2011 Boston Cyberarts Festival is well into its second week, and all around town you can find exhibits, performances, workshops, and concerts that in one way or another use technology to aesthetic ends.
It’s easy to assume that Cyberarts technology is all high-end, whizz-bang stuff, but “Move Me,’’ an understated and playful group show at Axiom Center for New and Experimental Media, offers several pieces run by hand cranks. Curator Heidi Kayser has put together intimate works that draw the viewer in with simple actions and a trace of nostalgia.
Arthur Ganson, a dean of kinetic sculptors, offers elegant pieces that gently prod the viewer toward compassion. “The First Noble Truth’’ refers to the Buddhist precept that life is suffering. It features a gear that, when cranked, shoves a rod at the head of an unfortunate cloth doll. The doll is almost featureless, and cowers a bit. Ganson captures the essence of everyday suffering in this haiku of a sculpture, but he does it with a light touch and a hint of comedy.
Hand cranks also power Erica von Schilgen’s mildly surreal assemblages on wood, which feature paper-doll-style cutouts. In “Flight of Fancy,’’ the crank sets birds nodding and a little girl dancing as “Hey Jude’’ plays, music-box style. The mood is similar in Tom Haney’s “Dreamtime.’’ A doll spins on a turntable as her hand dreamily traces rings in the sand around her.
Steve Hollinger’s works run on solar power. “Subterranean’’ depicts a little room buried under the earth in a glass vitrine — reminiscent of underground homes in several classic children’s books. Inside, the room is cleverly foreshortened, with a skewed table and chair. A miniature gauge built into the tabletop counts down — ominous enough, until it starts counting up.
Still playful, but not as tied to childhood fantasy, is Chris Fitch’s “Falling.’’ An arcing panel with an illuminated window fits into a corner of the gallery. Inside, strings of metal beads drop. Prop your chin on the windowsill, and you see a reflection of a reflection, revealing your face as others see it. It’s an uncanny experience. I recognized myself, but I looked unfamiliar; I even noticed my eyes start to cross, to make sense of the experience.
The charm of “Move Me’’ is that it’s largely low-tech. The artists did not, it seems, set out to make work that awes. Rather, their art enchants.
“Fluid Perimeters,’’ the group show at CyberartsCentral, runs mostly on monitors, which creates a completely different dynamic: virtual, not tangible. Brian Knep’s “Trigeminy Pulse’’ is a standout here. On three monitors, he captures the pulse of neurons firing. Each image is a constantly changing maze of black and white drawn with Keith Haring-like muscular strokes. The pulse on the central screen is big and seductive, a continual glimmer of expansion and contraction.
Pieces by Dan Hermes, Dennis Miller, and Mark J. Stock are filled with vivid, abstract motion. They are unhurried and hypnotic, like paintings unfolding in time, or fabulous screen savers. Robert Arnold’s expertly orchestrated “The Morphology of Desire (Version 3)’’ is a montage of romance novel covers. Ben Houge’s “Shanghai Traces’’ features the products of Shanghai street vendors showering down the screen, creating stuttering, spiraling patterns in brilliant tones.
Andrew Neumann combines video with photography, setting small monitors over large photos, each depicting the same scene. In “Waves w/Boat’’ the photo shows the foam of waves rolling onto shore; the tiny video in the center is at the horizon line. The water ripples; boats pass by. Looking at it in these two ways, Neumann begins to deconstruct how we capture and frame images, and how we think about landscape.
Another artist, Bebe Beard, takes the title of her ambitious HallSpace installation “Love You ’Till the End of Time’’ from a 1945 Perry Como song “Till the End of Time,’’ about everlasting love. The artwork, an environmentalist’s critique, questions our commitment to the earth.
Beard spent time on Monhegan Island during the winter of 2009-10, and found a lot of foam packing material washing up on the shore. That’s her principal material here: She makes totems out of it, and in one eerie piece of the installation, “LYTTEOT Totem #4,’’ projects a video inside one of the white foam boxes atop a jumbled totem.
All of Beard’s videos — the one in “Totem #4,’’ a second projected on the gallery’s back walls, and a third on a monitor — feature images of water running and foaming, and sometimes the images are abstracted into patterns. Feathers also appear, as they do on many of Beard’s drawings. Those, in salmon red tempera topped with snow-white goose feathers, are artfully arranged in patterns. They are gorgeous, angelic abstractions, but the red tempera suggests an undercurrent of violence and destruction.
“Love You ’Till the End of Time’’ feels like the work of a bruised survivor of a collision between natural beauty and the havoc humans wreak upon the earth. Lou Cohen’s computer-composed soundtracks to the videos hit the same beats: harrowing, then soft, and then desperately silent.
Cate McQuaid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.