Walking into Central Booking on Ludlow Street is a little like entering a full-sized wunderkabinett. Owner and curator Maddy Rosenberg consistently fills the space with unusual artist-made objects, books, prints, and ephemera. While the front room of the gallery is an ever-changing array designed to challenge and delight the senses, the back rooms serve as showroom and event spaces. It’s truly a beehive of activity.
The dedicated gallery, called Haber Space, is currently hosting an exhibition curated by Rosenberg entitled old Tech new Tech, a group show comprised of artists who work in both old and new media. The theme is a near-perfect synthesis of Rosenberg’s own interests, as evidenced by the various components of Central Booking. The notion of marrying traditional fabrication with new media is not only intriguing but also quite au courant, given the rise of the “artisanal” food movement and the reemergence of craft techniques in the mainstream art world in an otherwise digital age.
There are several standout works in the show, pieces that cross over media lines in fresh and interesting ways. Take the pieces by Marianne R. Petit. Petit lived in Shanghai for two years on a professional assignment, during which time she began to have respiratory problems, as many in China do; the air is notoriously polluted. So she parlayed her medical condition into a series of artworks that perfectly showcase the theme of this show. Her first piece is an articulated cardboard cutout of a woman’s body, topped with her own face. The first layer of the cutout is an image of Petit’s skin; as you unfold the layers, you go visually deeper into her body’s systems, in the manner of a Victorian anatomical toy. For the second iteration of the project, Petit isolated an image of human lungs and reproduced it painstakingly in a precise paper cutout, a technique traditional in both Chinese and Western art. The stark contrast of black-and-white paper and the lace-like delicacy of the cutout work belies the grim nature of the subject matter. The final piece is a colorful, almost decorative digital animation of lung function, an endless loop of breath and blood and heart laboring to keep a body alive. The exploration of a finite theme through a series of different media makes for a very arresting and successful project.
Catherin Clover, a British-born artist currently living in Australia, produced a delightfully simple and lovely series of digital prints entitled “Birds of New York” (2014) Utilizing the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Merlin app of birdsongs, which uses the eBird citizen-science database, she transcribed the songs of wild birds common to New York, using the phonetic words attributed to the songs from Jonathan Alderfer’s Field Guide to Birds of New York from National Geographic (2006). The result is a series of verbal poems that are literally nonsensical but musically lilting in their repetition and rhythm of words.
The creative team of Deborah and Glenn Doering, known as “DOE projekts,” are interested in the 19th-century biological term “hybridity,” which is based on a theoretical construct: the tendency for biological traits to blend into new forms in nature. The artists admit to not fully understanding this dense biological theory, but taking the idea as their starting point, they created an engaging interactive work that depends upon the viewer to bring it to life. “Gestures of Hybridity” (2015) consists of two 72-inch abstracted drawings made with colored pencil and graphite that hang unframed on a wall. The graphite conducts electricity, as does the brass stylus that hang next to the drawings. When the brass touches the graphite, it completes the electrical circuit. Using Arduinio technology, they are connected to .wav files on a laptop, so by moving the stylus in any direction around the drawing, you can play music. I expected sounds that were “computerized” or “techno” sounding; instead the pieces produce an array of lovely, impressively “natural” music. Two people can even play the drawings in tandem, creating a delightful and lyrical interactive experience. In this way, old and new tech blend in a “hybridity” of art.
Not all the pieces in the show marry different forms of technology so seamlessly, but even the ones that don’t are admirable in their ambition. Old Tech new Tech seeks to reinforce the value of the artist’s hand in contemporary art while at the same time embracing the possibilities new media technologies allow. The show succeeds in its mission, both on an intellectual plane and as pure entertainment.
Old Tech new Tech continues at Central Booking (21 Ludlow Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through November 1.