The combination of art-and-technology continues to develop … not exactly as a genre, certainly not a medium, too varied and anarchic to constitute a movement. Rather, art-and-technology might best be characterized as a form of agency — an imprecisely defined means of artistic engagement in which electronic, computer or digital technologies are essential to the artwork's realization and presentation. In other words, you know it when you see it.
Virtually all artists now utilize computer and digital technologies so unselfconsciously that they barely notice. But some artists employ technology in ways so fundamental to their artwork that, at least for the time being, art-and-technology has descriptive value. And that term is applicable to a new set of unpredictable installations at Wood Street Galleries, Pittsburgh's perennial home for art-and-technology.
Organized by Wood Street's curator/director Murray Horne, the works of these four international artists loosely cohere around the show's titular theme of Light, Matter, Memory. Highly varied yet oddly compatible, each of these works is capable of stirring something in the human psyche. And, as is usual at Wood Street, each is given the full treatment in terms of architectural modifications, idiosyncratic needs for lighting and equipment, and sequestering of sound.
The artists in Light, Matter, Memory represent significant directions in which art-and-technology has been developing. In the early days, computers could draw, but no better than chimpanzees, and interactivity amounted to little more than multiple choice. We have since witnessed progress on all major fronts, including hardware, software and wetware (the theories and creativity of the human operators). And we have moved beyond to-prove-it-can-be-done and "special" effects to the point where technologically minded artists have the wherewithal and the ambition to emotionally affect the viewer.
Quebec artist Diane Landry's "Blue Decline" is a set of three kinetic sculptures in which common items such as plastic baskets and bottles cast exquisite, rapidly changing shadows on the walls as a light source moves smoothly in and out. These pieces transform their components into a kind of advanced filter — that which creates an effect — without disguising their ordinariness. Meanwhile, the elaborate tripods with motorized gears and levers have a curious presence that lies somewhere between indispensable technical equipment and sculptural element. The effect is cyclical, before long predictable, and thoroughly hypnotic, suspending time rather than highlighting its passing.
Yoko Seyama, a Japanese artist based in Berlin, presents "Light Work #6: In Soil." Difficult-to-discern images of leaves are projected at an oblique angle so that they reflect off of crumpled black plastic that resembles a small pool or pond. The key component, which is heightened if one avails oneself of the floor cushions as one should, is reflected light dancing across the arched ceiling. For me, the fluctuating wisps of illumination evoke the shimmer of light reflected on choppy water; whatever other people saw in it, they lingered. The occasional bits of romantic poetry projected onto the "pool" along with a soundtrack of cicadas further suggest a paean to nature, referencing both its evanescence and its endurance.
"Solace," by Dutch artist Nicky Assmann, is an environment of steamy, soapy air redolent of laundry rooms past. Two vertical poles are mechanically dipped in a solution, creating wall-sized sheets of soap bubble. This results in a visual phenomenon that is surprisingly rich, yielding fluid patterns of psychedelic complexity that cascade and abruptly halt, with the added drama of lights intensifying and dimming. Meditative yet strangely theatrical, not unlike watching "dancing" fountains, this installation is at once a spectacle and as prompting of memory as any long-remembered scent.
Dutch art collective Macular's "Revolve," featuring the contributions of Joris Strijbos and Daan Johan, is a strobe-like experience. As we enter the space, a large grill with points of illumination along its horizontal edges is activated, and rotates with increasing speed. Initially, we feel we are simply watching lights moving. But as the motion accelerates and the lights move in complicated sequence, we begin to experience the sensation that we ourselves are in motion. Numerous associations are possible, but for me it is most evocative of modes of transportation, whether it's the lights glimpsed from a speeding subway train or — given the suggestion of vertical motion — a glass-walled elevator.
All of the exhibit's artworks and installations are relatively simple in concept, mechanically and technologically complex in construction, visually satisfying in effects, and emotionally rich in the associations that they provoke in the viewer's memory. Outstanding.