Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Review: "Interface" at Fraser Gallery, Bethesda MD

First, I'’m biased. I'm loyal to Lenny--I have my reasons. So when I heard that his partner/ex-wife Catriona had spent a year curating a show on technology in the context of contemporary art, I felt a duty to go, even though normally, wouldn't have pushed. It'’s just not my thing. But I went, and it has taken me a few days to really marinate. And even after all that time, I'’m still relatively nonplussed. But I didn'’t hate it, which for picky-ol'’-me, is actually a good sign.

One of my biggest art peeves is the assumption that "technology in art"” automatically means digital art or video art. Yes, it is partly comprised of those, but not specifically defined as such. In any case, I get the impression that "technology in art"” is mainly seen as two-dimensional works. So I was very relieved that not was the show filled with three-dimensional works, but it also seemed to reject the all-too-readily-assumed binary of 2D art vs. 3D art and explored performance art, which, while technically 3D, is probably still excluded a lot of times when people are forced to think about art. I think in general, the show raised some interesting questions, such as "“is working technology in action a performance in itself,"” and other variations on that theme. Thomas Edwards'’ "“Blame"” took that question quite literally, to a somewhat (presumably unintentionally) humorous level. Yeah, yeah, society sucks, ho ho, the irony of the machine blaming the man is yummy, got it, thanks, moving on. Tell me something new. I saw that hand oscillating back and forth, almost getting knocked over, or almost accidentally getting fresh with some unwitting gallery visitor, but I couldn'’t help but think of Disney World. You know, those really cool animatronics? Grumpy Lincoln? Dancing zombies? I loved those things, if only for their robotic campiness. I'’m a closeted science nerd, forgive me. But I digress. I might be mistaken, but I got the impression that it was triggered by movement, which, if true, could send an interesting message about human performance with technology aside from technology performing by itself. I'’m not satisfied with what the hand was saying, though. Saying "“I blame you for ______"” has its value, but I can'’t shake this feeling that it could have been better. In all fairness to Mr. Edwards, I'’m not sure what could be done to improve it, but something just doesn'’t sit right with me. As it is, "“Blame"” does seem to force the viewer to recognize that they are partly responsible for a lot of society'’s problems, if not by actively perpetuating them, then by apathy or a lack of action to remedy them. But it'’s so general, so impersonal, that the message doesn'’t come across as noble as much as it'’s just....mean. "“Blame" doesn'’t know the viewer, yet it makes accusations which may be wholly unfair and inappropriate. It's ignorant. And ignorance is what produced many of the problems the work feels so comfortable to accuse the viewer of. It'’s the pot calling the kettle "“black."” But perhaps that'’s the point. Either way, despite my dissatisfaction, I still liked it.

"Hopscotch,"” by David Page, is on the other end of the spectrum of technology as performance from "Blame" in that it's technology used to assist human performance, but it's still a performance in itself. I'’ll admit, I didn'’t "“get" it” when I was there, and I still don'’t quite "“get" it,” but I'’m not sure if that's necessary. At face value, it was a machine which performed by using people, but it was a creation of man, who used the actions of the machine as his own performance. Sort of a man-machine-man multilayered work. The whole man-machine binary is thrown out the window, just as the 2D-3D binary mentioned earlier. I really need to go back to reading sci-fi....

But my favorite piece in the show was probably the simplest, the kinetic needle sculpture by Claire Watkins. Let me preface this by saying I'm a sucker for simplicity in art. And yet, it really wasn'’t that simple, but I can't even really articulate how so. Nonetheless, I really liked it! It was just so hypnotic. Ms. Watkins, please don't be insulted if I compare it to staring at TV snow on mute--you know you'’re not really looking at anything, but you can't look away, and if you stop to think about what TV snow really is, you know it's actually really complicated. Call me crazy, but it also seemed a little soothing. Yeah, they were needles, but the gentle hum of the rotating magnet, plus the pseudo-gestalt effect of "“floating" needles just seemed so pleasing. Sigh.

But the rest of the show was just...meh. I can'’t even remember a lot of it, except that it involved digital video (yawn--but that's just me) or yet another podcast. That'’s not a good sign if you walk away not remembering a piece. At least if you hate something, you still remember it, and it still incited a passionate response. Three standout pieces plus a few boring ones averages the show to being just, well, average. If you're in the Bethesda area, you might as well stop by. But if not, I'm not entirely convinced it'’s worth the schlep.


Blogger Samantha Wolov said...

something happened with the apostrophes and quotation marks when i posted the review. trust me, i know how to type, even though it looks like i'm channeling e.e. cummings half the time.

4:25 PM  
Anonymous Tracy Lee said...

I have to agree with almost everything you wrote - the kintetic sculpture was my fav and I'd like to go back and see it again. My sore points of the night: no artist should ever start out a gallery talk with "I know nothing about this subject" or "I don't want to talk about it" attitude.

Lots of folks though - boy it was hot in there. Will try to go back before it closes to get a closer look and chance to study the pieces at my leisure - I find that this does help me come to a more coherent opinion if I'm not in such a rushed state like at an opening.

And - hey - the Lexington opening - you get the brochure for that? Wowzers, that one could be the big one for both of us!

6:55 PM  
Blogger Samantha Wolov said...

i missed the gallery talk--i had to flee. but yeah, nothing says "pay attention to me" like admitting you don't actually deserve that attention. hooray, ignorance.

i like openings like that because i can just hide in the corner and people watch, in relative peace. im also freakishly tall, which helps in my looking/skulking.

i think i did receive the brochure for lexington, but i might have thrown it out. im feeling a tad sheepish--i suspect my print isnt all that good.

12:31 AM  
Anonymous Hef said...

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7:42 PM  
Blogger Samantha Wolov said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:16 PM  
Blogger adrian said...

i saw claire watkins at the Boyden Gallery in the dirty south--er, southern maryland--and was blown away. her circuit board work is worth checking out on her site. completely odd sounding, but the way she soders is organic and painterly. you think more of copper patinas and less of transisters and bits and zeroes. the suspended needles were at that show as well but they were stationary then . . . . . . ......

requisite blog link. i stumbled from lenny's site.

3:58 AM  

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