“I blame you for low rise jeans,” accuses the voice of artist Thomas Edwards, emanating from small speakers below his moving sculpture of a white hand pointing an accusing finger.
“I don’t think I know what I’m looking at,” whispers the set of video eyes next to Edward’s accusing sculpture. It’s the voice of painter Scott Hutchison, and those are his painted video eyes following you around the gallery space.
“Interface: Art & Technology” opened at the Fraser Gallery of Bethesda, Maryland on February 13, 2006 to a large opening night crowd of art aficionados attracted by the focus of the exhibition, which married a diverse set of artists who incorporate and use technology in their artwork.
On opening night the crowd was treated to a mesmerizing performance by Baltimore-based artist David Page, whose massive machine dominates the center of the gallery space. Page, who two years ago won the inaugural Trawick Art Prize, built it a year ago; the machine is titled “Hopscotch.”
“Hopscotch” by David Page
The Washington City Paper’s John Metcalfe described what happened: “Those inside Bethesda’s Fraser Gallery for the “Interface” opening on Friday night find themselves in uncomfortable proximity to a giant, shifting metal contraption that drowns out conversation with its engine drone. Half meat-packing machine and half go-cart disaster, the steel monster propels two straitjacketed humans, one hanging from a hook and the other strapped onto a rolling buggy.
A lithe, black-clad fellow flits about the apparatus with a stopwatch in his hand. He’s David Page, the 43-year-old Corcoran College of Art & Design teacher who designed the machine, titled Hopscotch. Page spent five days programming it to send its human cargo on a crash course. At the last moment, it will lift the suspended person over the buggy-riding person. Then it will repeat the process in reverse and switch itself off.”
“Chatter” by Scott Hutchison
Scott Hutchison has been (for the last few years) blurring the genre between painting and video. For this exhibition he contributes three pieces. In “Chatter,” Hutchison projects onto a gallery wall a video comprised of a series of small paintings of his mouth, in different states of speech. “I don’t know,” it says silently to lip readers. A second work by Hutchison records on video the birth, development and eventual destruction, frame by frame, of a charcoal portrait of the artist; next to the video, the final piece hangs silently: a drawing of the crumpled up paper, and the paper itself.
Thomas Edwards and Scott Hutchinson
Together with fellow artist Thomas Edwards, Hutchison also contributes twelve paintings of various states of his eyes. The oils, done in an exceptionally realistic way, stand next to a pristine video box, where (from a slit cut into the box) the eyes follow you as you walk in front of them. And they actually do follow the person in front of them, as Edwards has videotaped all twelve oils, and programmed them with three motion detectors so that at all times Hutchison’s eyes follow the viewers. And every once in a while, his voice whispers to you.
“Blame” by Thomas Edwards
“I blame you for a lack of Tsunami warning systems,” shouts Edward’s accusing voice as the ghostly white hand, guided by a motion detection system, swing over and points an accusing finger at the viewer. It is one of dozens of accusations by Edward’s “Blame,” relentless in its pursuit of whoever walks near it.
New Yorker Claire Watkins recently graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University’s acclaimed (and number one ranked) sculptural graduate program, and in this show, her first major exposure in the Greater Washington, DC region, she exhibits four sculptural pieces that employ motors and magnetism to grab attention from both collectors and critics.
“Wall” by Claire Watkins
On the gallery’s main wall, three sculptural arrangements hang: two triptychs and a diptych. They are ink and acrylic etchings on a copper plate, floating away from the wall, projected from a plastic armature that hides a small motor. The hidden motor rotates a small magnet, and this magnet, in turn, causes pins and iron filings to dance and move on the surface of the etchings.
The effect is hypnotizing. “They look alive,” comments a viewer, craning her neck to see what’s behind the etchings. In one of the pieces, titled “Parasites,” Watkins has added a circular handful of iron filings, which move and undulate like an underwater plant. “Or a living fungus,” adds a passerby.
“Flock of Needles” by Claire Watkins
In the corner of the gallery, a square magnet, suspended from a clear plastic bracket rotates slowly. As one approaches the piece (titled “Flock of Needles”), the viewer notes that dozens of needles, attracted by the invisible magnetism, float away from the walls and floor of the gallery, dancing and moving in mid-air, in a sensual and ever-changing dance with the magnet. “The work is as delicate as a spider’s web,” wrote art critic Jessica Dawson in the Washington Post, “and just as magical.”
A few steps from the dancing needles, Kathryn Cornelius‘ latest video plays silently from an iPod hooked to a digital projector. On the screen, clouds float away, while the earphones deliver the soft hum of the airplanes’ engines. With this video Cornelius continues her exploration of the repetitive cycle of technology.
Two large oil paintings by Washington artist Andrew Wodzianski hang on the other corner of the gallery. One may ask: “How is this most traditional of genres fit in with the technology?”
“It’s all about the Internet and cell phones,” responds Wodzianski, who uses Yellow Arrows web technology to have both voice mails and text messages deposited directly via the Yellow Arrows to his paintings. Dialers can then call in and listen (or have the comments downloaded to their phones) to the opinion of the hundreds of people who have commented on Wodzianski’s works. “It’s immediate feedback from the public.”
The last artist in the exhibition, Philip Kohn offers two works that may provide a future peek at what technology will deliver in self-portraiture. Using two custom made software programs, Kohn has assembled two pieces that hang as a painting would. Stand in front of the works, and a hidden camera on the work itself records your image and begins, on an almost random basis, to marry it and re-interpret it with the many other images and people who have stood in front of it over time.
Sometimes the image is a clear video reflection of the viewer; at other times, a disorienting amalgamation of images play across the screen, never the same twice in a row. The replayed imagery is only limited by the chip’s memory capabilities, and Kohn’s self-portrait accomplices record away (and store) the world in front of them.
A world where art, and technology, continue to become one and the same.
Interface: Art & Technology
Date: 13th January – 8th February, 2006
Place: Fraser Gallery
Address: 7700 Wisconsin Avenue, Suite E, Bethesda, MD 20814, USA
Text: F. Lennox Campello