The 2011 Digital/Electronic Arts NYFA Fellows Exhibit at the New York Foundation for the Arts is a curious exhibition, not least because with all of its technological focus, some of its highlights are aimed at connecting with nature. I stopped by during this past weekend’s Dumbo Arts Festival, an event that seemed to be lacking on much new media art in comparison to previous years (aside from monolithic installations, with the “Codex Dynamic” projections on the Manhattan Bridge and “Superheros” by Wildbytes), so I was interested in what sort of snapshot this would offer of contemporary digital and electronic arts. The group show in the NYFA Dumbo office, a rather untraditional exhibition setting, features 17 artists who received 2011 Digital/Electronic Arts fellowships from the organization. The awards are their common ground, as the uses of technology in their work are incredibly diverse. I found among the fellows some artists to keep an eye on for their creative perspectives on how technology can be a bridge or receptor between their audience and their ideas.
One of the aforementioned nature-oriented pieces is Michelle Mayer‘s “Root Boots,” documented in the exhibition through video, which are bark shoes designed with electronic components that give the user the feeling of being uprooted. If you stay still, the shoes rumble happily; if you attempt to walk, you hear the sounds of pulling and twisting wood, as if a tree is about to topple over. Mayer’s “Heels for Departure” (2011) are also presented under a bell jar, a visual continuation of the rustic aesthetic and a play on the contrast between manufactured beauty and nature.
Another merging with nature occurs in an interactive installation by Karolina Sobecka, entitled “All the Universe is Full of the Lives of Perfect Creatures” (2012), which replicates a viewer’s movements with a digital creature that appears when you look in the mirror. As you interact with the wolf, bear, or goat in Sobecka’s piece, you are enticed to mimic animal behavior, like snarling to see their digital teeth snap.
Despite there being a loose cohesion to the exhibition, it was interesting to have quick glimpses of the techniques and approaches currently powering digital and electronic art, from 3D printing and scanning with Sophie Kahn‘s fragmentary sculptural busts, computer drawing with Emily Puthoff‘s Poppy series (the code for which also inspired a dance performance), and dystopic predictions from Chin Chih Yang of a future when our bodies will be integrated with electronics, like projectors and cameras.
There’s also a site-specific installation with Tristan Perich‘s “Machine Drawing” (2012), in which a Sharpie zips along on fishing wire driven by a motor and a microchip, leaving a gradually fading clouded pattern down the NYFA office wall. The artist, who mainly works with sound, states of his Machine Drawings series that the “final drawings are studies of how randomness inside a structured composition can be beautiful.”
Once you pick up a pair of headphones in front of Thessia Machado‘s “Turntables” (2011), small percussion devices pulse and the records on the two turntables are scratched to produce short compositions selected based on where the viewer is standing. An adjacent wall piece also by Machado, entitled “Translux,” encourages viewers to alter its blips of sound by directing flashlights over the embedded photocells. Both installations engage with the collaborative process between user and machine, with minimal changes to the “natural” sounds of the materials, to create an odd type of music, which the artist states allows the use of the air “as yet another malleable and responsive physical material.”
Digital art can still be haunted by the expectation that anything created through code or computers will feel somewhat distancing, yet in this small exhibition are several attempts to connect quite viscerally with the viewer. One of the most vivid is an example of the bronzes based on 3D modeling of breast cancer tumors by the artists Caraballo-farman, in which the twists and contours of the malignant growth are turned into organic sculptural dimensions to visualize the “invisible monster.”
Crowded into the main hall of the NYFA office, the work from the Digital/Electronics Arts fellows does not all rise above its busy workplace setting. However, for a quick exploration into the world of technologically guided art being produced in the city, this exhibit turns up some intriguing projects from artists with clear and sharp visions, which is undoubtably why they stood out for the fellowships and continue to stand out against the noise of new media art.
The 2011 Digital/Electronic Arts NYFA Fellow Exhibit is at the New York Foundation of the Arts (20 Jay Street, Suite 740, Dumbo, Brooklyn) through November 9.