I am old enough to remember how cool it was to see the art that could be created from early-1980s vintage dot-matrix printers—Snoopys and the like constructed from strategically organized asterisks, pound signs, and ampersands.
More than three decades later, our technology has advanced, but tinkerers remain drawn to the power of electronic devices to create art or, in some cases, kitsch.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science exhibit “Technovisual: Art in the Age of Code” offers a sampling of present-day art inspired by computing. Its selection is decidedly mixed.
Barry Stone offers color-manipulated images (right/above), including one of the Maine coastline rife with eccentric, magenta-hued vegetation, a color that hat-tips the four-color separation process. Jean-Pierre Hébert‘s pieces are described as “algorithmic art,” consisting of smooth, curved, lines that pulsate, suggesting Chinese waterfall paintings (bottom).
Leigh Brodie pays homage to traditional forms of art, too, using what she calls “principal component analysis” to merge a wide range of images from art history books into composites (below), highlighting similarities between the works both meaningful and incidental. The resulting images suggest indistinct landscapes with a classical Asian feel.
Other works aren’t as compelling. Brandon Morse offers animated simulations of complex systems such as neurons, but the result isn’t much different what you might see on your average episode of CSI. Shane Mecklenburger experiments with animated floating diamonds, while Mike Beradino cheekily uses ASCII code to both mimic the image of a snake and also provide the signals to create a 3-D image when viewed through a tablet.
And Andy Holtin puts a new and surprisingly thoughtful spin on the floating plastic bag, something that should have become a cliché after its role as metaphor in American Beauty and in Katy Perry’s “Firework.” In Holtin’s version, a series of bags are hooked up to small fans that are activated by the viewer’s own breath.
The strongest and weakest aspects of the exhibit are both encapsulated in a pair of video works by Amelia Winger-Bearskin, both based on data mining. The first features video-selfie footage of the artist guiding a tour around Manhattan, but with split-second clips of her voice spliced together, organized by what words she’s speaking. The result is unlistenable and difficult to watch.
Her second work, however, uses data mining for a much cleverer end. Winger-Bearskin brings out vintage-movie excerpts that include the word “Indian” (top). The usages and contexts of the word are painfully retrograde, and much like a Daily Show segment that skewers politicians or cable-news talking heads by repeating their words, her video expertly lays bare the absurdity of language.
Through Aug. 15 at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1200 New York Ave. NW. Monday to Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.