As its title suggests, Wood Street Galleries exhibit Machine Improvisations isn't exactly about artists manipulating technology. Rather, as the program book says, the international artists on the show's roster build their own tools in order to "interact" with "electronic signals and digital processes." The show, guest-curated by Dutch-based Telcosystems and artist Martijn van Boven, gives free rein to the glitches and quirks of a medium we think we understand simply because it surrounds us.
The electronic world's weirdness is ably suggested on Wood Street's second floor. A collection of nine short videos are projected sequentially on one wall of the big gallery, which is painted white, and is otherwise stark except for the large PAs stacked in each corner.
The visuals are mostly abstract, but oddly familiar, too: This is what the TV and computer screen do in the basement, when Mom and Dad are out.
In Billy Roisz's "Tilt," four slender cylinders stand vertically while a hyperactive column of red static performs twitches and undulations that can be weirdly suggestive of animal motion -- or, alternately, your VCR's death throes. On the soundtrack, white noise gives way to jarring squeals and belches of static.
Some of these videos, like "Synchronator/Arde," by Gert-Jan Prins and Bas van Koolwijk, feel like pure formal play, spiked with the impish humor of sudden jolts of sound or picture. Some are dull: LUST's silent "Rail Movie" offers a cartoonishly simplified version of the view from a moving train. The computer-generated landscape "never repeats itself," a guidesheet says, but that does little to make it more engaging.
Still, the gallery's lack of seating suggests you're not meant to watch all 55 minutes of these videos straight through. Even so, you won't mind standing for Telcosystem's own "Scape_Time." It's an eight-minute epic of somber black and gray, with animated panes of glass refracting animated light, plus kaleidoscopic trippiness and multiple exposures, while the audio suggests the soundtrack for an arty post-apocalyptic thriller set in the bowels of an abandoned nuclear power plant.
Telcosystems members Gideon Kiers, Lucas van der Velden and David Kiers outdo themselves on Wood Street's third floor, where they've installed "12_Series," a world premiere. Twelve monitors are arrayed panoramically at eye level in the darkened room. Don't worry, you didn't miss anything: "12_Series" is endless, its progression of computer-generated sounds and images "built around the notion of decentralized autonomous decision-making and evolution."
When I entered, 11 of the screens were blank but for faint, and faintly undulating, patterns. On the lone live screen, static swam and sparked; viewing the coarse grain of the black-and-whiteblue flecks was itself sensually pleasing, the visual equivalent of crunching across gravel. It was almost disappointing when recognizable patterns, like sine waves, emerged. And is that infrared kelp on the screen, shot in time-lapse? Light flashing off choppy water?
Yet this is no chill-out room. The eerie electronic music was a bit loud and harsh for comfort. Then, alarmingly, the screens all flickered at once, to a rising bass tone, a theremin warble.
You'll see a portion of "12_Series" no one else will; in a sense, it's happening just for you. Still, the work is never more unnerving than when a pattern, perhaps one suggesting photographed reality, suddenly dissolves into formless static, shattering the illusion of perception.
Machine Improvisations continues through June 20. Wood Street Galleries, 601 Wood St., Downtown. 412-471-5605