Audiences looking for traditional media at the Cleveland Institute of Art's 2008 Faculty Show won't go home entirely disappointed, though a sea change is evident even in areas that have usually tended toward the conservative, like glass, metals and ceramics.
Little in the way of painting has found its way onto the gallery walls this year - but that's been more or less true at CIA Faculty Shows for most of the past decade. A group of highly successful, unabashed sculptures in wood and alabaster by Barbara Stanczak - placed at a transitional point in the well-thought-out gallery installation - comes as a relief, as does a dream-like silk textile piece by fiber department co-chair Deborah Carlson, depicting a figure floating in a sea of stars, reaching for a box of toys.
There are also several paintings on view, though most are quietly introspective works. Small acrylic works on paper by Dan Tranberg, for instance, framed behind glass, explore an understated abstract terrain where ideal geometric forms overlap, accumulating delicate erosion and a sense of sweet damage. More attention-grabbing is visiting instructor Sarah Sutton's roughly 4-by-5-foot "Soft Network," an in-your-face gumbo of semi-decorative floral and biomorphic motifs rendered in water-based media on a sheet of white mylar. The work greets visitors just to the left of the Reinberger Galleries' main entrance where its fluid, objective/non-objective presence serves as a handmade introduction to a show of work produced in the digital age, where the human hand is more a master than a maker of objects.
CIA's T.I.M.E. program (Technology and Integrated Media Environment), jokingly described by one faculty member as "an interdepartmental virus," has continued to proliferate through the halls and classrooms of the school, often encouraging interesting work, as well as bringing a new breed of artist onto the school's faculty roster. This is a time of projections, of big screens in dark rooms and smaller flat screens hanging on the wall with headphones. The wildly various video/sound creations that spring to life from digital sources may eventually prove to be the inheritors of much of painting's audience, although the way they address the senses is very different. Internationally known artist and TIME associate professor Kasumi shows her video "Recursion #7: The African Turn" projected on a movable wall in the main gallery. Composed from meticulously edited fragments of found film and video clips, the fast-paced hybrid work is mesmerizing both as a silent visual song about race relations in South Africa, and an exploration of the psychological resonance of incremental human gestures. A brief turn of a young African man's head repeated in long, snake-like loops establishes pride, defiance and a sense of deep transformations wrought by repetition. Nicolas Economos' "Klok, Paff, Ta-boom," shown across the room on a small flat screen, is a dynamically constructed sequential montage of video stills showing storm cells and a jet airplane, among other images that evoke the explosive potential of compression. Especially diverting is a suite of three digital animations by Megan Ehrhart on view in the large screening room at the rear of the gallery. Ehrhart shows an audience of stuffed animals and dolls watching with catatonic indifference (what else?) while a very homemade, apparently eyeless stitched elephant saws a Barbie in half, with unfortunate results; clowns and monkeys throw roses and rotten tomatoes before they file out the back of their toy theater. Just as hard to classify are some very fine photographs by Knut Hybinette, Barry Underwood and Nancy McEntee. Underwood's nocturnal shot of a twirling light spinning around a small tree seems like an update of the burning bush motif, while Hybinette's "Mom's the One Who Would Kill Me" and "Third Baptism" (showing an old man standing in a darkened lake or river, holding another's legs as he does a handstand in water up to his crotch) are creepy but memorable. McEntee's black-and-white silver-gelatin portrait studies of young women contain inexplicable details, like a straw pursed in the lips of one girl, connecting to another's head, and an alien-looking balloon floating behind two seated girls in "Full Moon."Ê NO OBJECTS AT ALL (other than a couple of keyboards) distract the eye from on-screen works by a group of new-media artists brought from around the world for the show Digital Safari at Cleveland State University's Art Gallery. Curated by CSU's Qian Li, the show's computer-generated images glow on the huge walls of the darkened gallery like a circle of high-tech campfires in a postmodern cave. Is this the future of gallery viewing? "No," says CSU Gallery Director Robert Thurmer. "Galleries will soon be bright again. The future is this," he says, gesturing toward NYU artist Daniel Shiffman's Voronoi, displayed on a mid-size flat screen.
"But for the time being it's too expensive to show them all this way." A Voronoi Diagram is a so-called "tessellation," a mathematically generated image constructed of geometric "tiles," portraying whatever stands in front of a digital lens mounted at the bottom of the screen.
Several other interactive works are included in the show, appealing especially to student audiences (though anyone can join in). Christopher Paretti for instance designs toys and games using cell phone technology. His "String Theory" projects the reactions of pre-programmed sensors to noises in its section of the gallery. When a viewer claps her hands or clears her throat, complex, branching lines appear high on the wall. By varying and repeating different sounds, viewers begin to learn the pattern of the software's response, making possible a sort of conversation. Self-taught New York programmer Mark Napier, whose work has been shown in the Whitney Biennial (2002) and purchased by the Guggenheim Museum in New York, is one of the early creators of interactive video works. Here Napier's "Smoke" shows a blueprint-like white outline of the Empire State Building folded over on itself, limp and twirling from its iconic mast as if drained of steel. Also legendary in his field is Beijing-based artist Xu Bing, a MacArthur Fellow (1999) who has exhibited just about everywhere, from the Venice Biennale to the Guangzhou Triennial.
His "Book From the Ground" consists of a program displayed on two computer terminals deployed on either side of a temporary wall. The ongoing project (as an international artist and frequent flier Xu began collecting airline safety cards and other sources of diagrammatic instructional imagery in 1999) allows viewers/participants to sit and tap out a sentence at one terminal, which is then translated into the artist's evolving system of symbols on the other side of the wall. Essentially a language of wingdings, Xu's visual Esperanto is potentially accessible to people of all nations. Ma Yongfeng is another widely exhibited Beijing artist on view at CSU, who became notorious a few years ago when he exhibited "Swirl," a video displayed at Los Angeles MOCA and PS1 in New York. The work showed Koi carp going through a 15-minute washing machine cycle.
No fish were harmed at CSU in the artist's calm and uncontroversial animation "Transparency is Wrong," where lozenge-shaped Chinese chess pieces are suspended, as Ma writes in a statement, "outside the temporal and spatial parameters of human life."
ÊYing Tan's and Jeffrey Stolet's "Wicked Paths, Cruel Deserts," is a screening of excerpts from three short animated films in which University of Oregon video artist Tan's flowing abstract imagery is coordinated with Stolet's electronic music. Some passages vibrate with nervous, angular lines and have a Twilight Zone-ish, disturbing graphic quality, as if describing confinement and mental breakdown. Other segments evoke a sweeping, oceanic sense of peace and infinite time, like an out-of-body experience. The eye floats above torrents of water, perhaps on another world, and unknown, sparkling seas twinkle toward alien horizons.
ÊThe future may be brighter than CSU's twilit installation would suggest, but darkness and the large scale of many of the projections serve the works at Digital Safari well, creating an atmosphere of hushed theatrical awe that allows audiences to focus on each piece as a separate reality in a dreamscape of images and opportunities. Don't miss this extraordinary show.