Curator Patricia Miranda
Southern Connecticut State University Buley Art Gallery
Director Cort Sierpinski
August 26- December 2, 2021
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Technology expands the human body’s ability to perceive, understand and alter the natural world. From the massive earth altering gears of the industrial revolution to nano technology moving inside of a cell, humans have developed tools to shape the world for our use in equally joyous, healing, and deadly ways.
Today the powerful tools of new technology bring formerly impossible distances intimately close. We can perceive the bottom of the ocean, a distant glacier, planets in vast space, or the internal action of a facial expression. A screen sends tips of fingers across the globe, extending touch, sight, hearing and mind far beyond as well as deep inside the body’s biological perimeter. Our bodies remain flesh and bone, and yet, as emerging technology is integrated into and around our bodies, the ability to discern the physically unknowable through its powerful lens alters the somatic senses. Are these extensions of existing or new fibers of touch, sound, sight? Our complex relationship with the machines we’ve built expands and confounds our ability to comprehend, adapt, and to control its overwhelming influences, both destructive and productive.
From industrial to digital, from low to high tech, these artists utilize and reflect upon how technology compresses notions of distance, agency, and intimacy, and both expands and disrupts our lives. Artists Claudia Hart, Joyce Yu-Jean Lee, and Laura Splan use recent technologies to re-envision modernist painting through AI, to illustrate pandemic data in immersive projections, and to transform the data of a frown into textile and 3D printed objects. Katherine Jackson and Chris Kaczmarek reflect on our relationships with historic and low tech technology through a wall of tiny solar panels and broken eggshells making light levels visible as sound, and industrial oil cans memorialized as glowing glass reliquaries.
Claudia Hart’s series of works, The Ruins, comprise a group of works from paintings, wallpaper embedded with an AI code, a 3D sculpture, and NFT. The series is a reinterpretation of modernist still life paintings in a classical memento mori, traditionally a means of contemplating the passage of time and cultural decay. Hart copies masterpieces by Picasso, Matisse and Redon as 3D computer models, and recomposes them with software using low-resolution polygon models normally used in massive-multiplayer online games. These become high-resolution Tiff files, which are then remixed onto wooden panels with a unique, archival printing process to create paintings. The wallpaper behind the paintings can be read by a phone, leading the viewer to an interactive AI universe.
Hart plays with the idea of painting as an authentic object by referring to cultural constructions of forgery, copyright infringement and the NFT - or non fungible token. She remixes her original to create yet another new digital image, a unique but derivative NFT, which is then “combined” with her painting to create the conceptual painting + NFT installation constituting her final work.
The sculpture, The Still Life With Flowers by Henri Fantin-Latour, exists in real life as a 48” x 24” x 36” object made from walnut, bleached basswood and maple, with blossoms in burnished resin It is a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy, produced by a computer model for an animation of the painting imitating the 1881 original oil painting now hanging in The Art Institute of Chicago where she teaches. Hart then modified that same computer model to produce this physical object, using a CNC router and rapid-prototype printer. The work forms an allegory about the passage of time, decay, obsolescence, the poor copy and aging in relation to an art market obsessed with the unique, and along with that obsession, now obsolete ideals about authenticity in relation to physical materials.
Katherine Jackson’s recasts pre-digital, industrial age industrial oil cans originally calibrated to fit specific requirements of machinery, from a sewing machine to a ship’s engine. Jackson transforms the oil cans into reliquaries of luminous cast colored glass, elegiac remnants of a once futuristic technology that now threatens our planet’s ecosystem. Jackson’s work Phonotaxis consists of three works in etched glass panels, edge lit with LEDs and set in hinged steel frames. Phonotaxis is the movement of an organism in relation to a sound source, as in the stridulation made by male crickets during mating season. The work is inspired by a project undertaken by artists Andy Gracie and Brian Lee Rowe employing AI to facilitate interspecies communication using a conversation between a robot and a group of crickets. The glass works are etched with algorithms based on the length of each stridulation, the intervals between them, their pitch, and the program in the software brain of the robot processing this output and responding. The outcome of the experiment couldn’t determine if real communication occurred; the work reflects how communication between humans and other species, so far unattainable, might be bridged by AI.
Chris Kaczmarek’s Untitled, Solar Eggs 2021, consists of an installation of sixteen separate solar circuits that collect light energy into a miller engine, a tiny basic battery which can store only up to three volts before releasing it. The arrhythmic sequence triggered by the battery discharging the energy is regulated both by the amount of light in the room and by variances in the individual circuits, causing sixteen pairs of empty eggshell halves to tap against one another. The tapping produces a surprisingly amplified sound, a contrast between the expected fragility and evident strength of these symbolic elements. Placed in an environment with variable lighting, the changing frequency of the percussion becomes an audible reminder of the often overlooked and ever changing energy that surrounds us.
Kaczmarek’s video To the Letter is a collaborative creation between artist and computer. Six source videos were created by a computer by giving the artificial intelligence GAN, or generative adversarial network, example sets of the letters A, B, C, D, F, then also a set that combined all five of those letters. As the GAN attempted to understand the forms of the letters, it created sets of interpretative images that were then selected and mixed into videos, that again used the power of artificial intelligence to morph between different still images. Each of the letter sets (and the one combined letter set) were used to produce what became together a bank of videos that reflected potential “ideas” of these letters as understood by the computer. Kaczmarek then built a custom program that utilized multiple nested and randomized functions to remix the video bank in a way that removed human choice from the actual generation.
This work was specifically produced for this show with the use of letters in connection with the setting in a library, where books/letters are an important element to the institution and to students.
In State of the DysUnion, a large video projection in-the-round and two hand-written ledgers, Joyce Yu-Jean Lee observes the tensions surrounding the 2020 U.S. presidential election—a time marked by great division within the country and the world at large amidst the global Covid-19 pandemic. During this era of “fake news” and “alternative facts,” State of the DysUnion invites us to consider our own understanding of reality and truth. The animation, abstracted from the front pages of international newspapers, examines contemporary mass media—its documentation, distribution, and role in shaping culture and history. The accompanying tone poem Swan of Tuonela by nationalist Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius, ominously transfixes viewers in the media landscape.
Laura Splan’s Manifest is a series of data-driven sculptures based on EMG (electromyogram) readings of fluctuating levels of electricity in muscles. Neuromuscular activities associated with experiences of wonder were performed as facial expressions and bodily movements (smiling in delight, blinking in disbelief, frowning in confusion). Each activity produced unique data captured by an EMG sensor that was translated into a curve using custom software. Each curve serves as a profile for a different 3D-printed sculpture. The project examines the potential for objects to embody human experience and to materialize the intangible.
Splan’s work Squint, Smile, Swallow, Furrow, Blink Twice, Frown is a series of digitally woven tapestries formed from electromyography (EMG) data collected while the artist performed tasks and expressions with her own body such as squinting, blinking and even unraveling a finished tapestry. The numerical EMG data was visualized in a custom program that was written to repeat, rotate, and randomly colorize the EMG waveforms.
By combining hand and digital processes with traditional textiles and new media technologies, the series destabilizes and interrogates how each is categorized and valued. The narrative implications of these categories are mined for their potential to explore how technology, data, and cultural artifacts mediate our understanding of the human body. Embodied Objects questions both the veracity of the meaning of the data driving the patterns well as the meaning of the values imbued in traditions of craft.