“Brett Williams: Feedback” & “Recently Possible” @ The Luminary

The Luminary Center for the Arts has two exhibits currently up: Brett Williams: Feedback, a solo, site-specific sound installation in the curious and lovely Installation Space and a group show lacking artists (you’ll see what replaces them) downstairs with Recently Possible: Objects of the Future. A satisfying, ear and eye-opening pairing! Here’s what to expect:

Brett Williams, Feedback, 2011. Courtesy of The Luminary.

The Installation Space at The Luminary is a tiny chapel, with high, white, vaulted ceilings, arches, and a bare marble altar,  and is one of the organization’s most unique assets, a throwback to a time when the space was actively used as a convent. Brett Williams (who AAN referred to here) refuses the obvious response to a chapel-turned-gallery in his new site-specific sound installation entitled Feedback, resulting in a kind of technological, contained chaos rather than a meditative, reflective, quiet experience.

For this new work, Feedback (2011), Williams has placed a standing white fan near the center of the room, with four microphones hanging upside down in front of it, wired up along the ceiling and the walls, and connected to an amp on the ground.  When the fan is turned on, the microphones screech and hiss in response, as well as swinging and hitting each other and the fan to create a self-oscillating sound machine that requires no human artist ‘playing’ or ‘performing’ anything.  As a sound artist, Williams could be a talented musician but he does not have to be – any human failings due to the result of missing practice, lack of talent or knowledge are here replaced by technology that creates the kind of unique performance, usually attributed to human creativity, every time. The vaulted structure of the space is meant for voices to reverberate in praises and songs; Williams uses the structure for amplification of sound as well, but a sound that he himself does not have to actively participate in, but rather leaves to play its own course – like any person must after leaving a holy sanctuary.

Tenoir-on, Electric visual synthesizer. Toshio Iwai and Yamaha Center for Advanced Sound Technology. Courtesy of The Luminary.

The group show in the larger exhibition space, Recently Possible challenges the loosely, overused, art world, phrase, “new media” by taking it literally and featuring technological innovations only of the last few years made by engineering groups, larger businesses, and sometimes individuals.  Visitors are first greeted by an external hard drive on a pedestal – entitled 5 Million Dollars 1 Terrabyte– named for the amount of pirated software contained within it, addressing of what exactly are to do, at least for now, with so. much. space.  Then there is “E.V.I.E.,” a virtual brunette to whom you can type questions on a laptop and she will respond by speaking and engaging facial signals to express how she feels about your conversation.  With the purpose of eventually being used by businesses as a sort of virtual assistant (hence, the unsurprising gender choice of a young, pretty-faced woman), E.V.I.E. is usually clear, fast, and can even pick up on sarcasm.

One of the most exciting parts of the exhibition is visually represented by a few small, colorful, 3D objects in sphere, cube, and heart shapes, able to turn as gears might.  But, it’s their source that is fantastical – 3D printers.  3D printers, as shown in a demo on opening night, slowly, but efficiently printed out in thin layers such gear-like constructions, with the purpose of moving toward more practical small objects, like a printable bike gear.  On opening night only, Ryan Hendrikson and Robert Ward facilitated the demo on two 3D printers – one of which printed all of the parts for the other, resulting in a 3D printer whose parts were fully made by its neighboring 3D printer. There’s also electronic visual synthesizers which visualize sound as you choose (for example, you might draw a spiral on the synthesizer which will then ‘play’ a spiral back to you), a robotic rescue buoy named E.M.I.L.Y and a UV-germ-eliminating light. Oh, did we mention this is an art gallery?

Courtesy of The Luminary

Recently Possible is, by far, the most unforced and truly exciting, user-friendly exhibition known to AAN, and that is perhaps why it is so worth seeing.  When technology is presented as art (in a gallery, on pedestals, with a gallery guide) it never deserts its identity as a thing that is distinctly meant to be used, touched, and interacted with constantly and individually.  Rather, when approached literally as ‘new media’ within the world of fine art, extremely innovative projects and to-be products that might not have ever been seen outside of a lab until total fruition will. Hopefully, the exhibition will inspire and awe techies and artists alike and challenge artists to think through ‘new media’ and how it can expand current practices to go beyond the catchphrase.

Brett Williams: Feedback and Recently Possible: Objects of the Future are on view at The Luminary Center for the Arts at 4900 Reber Place, St. Louis, MO until 2 December 2011. The Luminary is open Wednesday – Saturday, 12-6.

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