Tony McKendry – Exhibition Paper

Chao(SiO)2trope was a contemporary production done by the New Directions in Digital Art Program at CU; it was held in the Black Box Theater in the Atlas Building on the University of Colorado at Boulder campus on Thursday, March 1st, 2012. This production was broken into two halves; the first half featured installations by artists and groups of artists, with most all of the works incorporating a digital aspect of some sort. Pieces ranged from holograms, to abstract video remixes to an ensemble of “instruments” made of glass. The New Directions group has managed to highlight some new and exciting art forms that are emerging, and even put some new spins on old forms. This was definitely a conversation-starting exhibition; whether the conversation was with a friend, or in your own head, it really made you think about the “digital” aspect of the whole thing. Some pieces did not seem to incorporate a digital or electronic aspect whatsoever, but I am sure the artists themselves could defend that point to the death if they had to.

Chao(sio)2trope’s name, I learned, is some distorted combination of the words Chaotrope (as in Chaotropic Agents, which disrupt the structure of DNA according to the encyclopedia) and the chemical name of glass, which is SiO2. The event began as a sort of gala set up in the black box theater; for those who have not been to the black box, it is simply a large room with a multimedia grid roughly 30 feet above the floor. This grid is capable of mounting all sorts of things from speakers, to lights, to projection screens etc, this made the space very appropriate for such an electronically oriented show. During the installation portion of the event, which took place for the first hour, attendees were allowed to freely walk about the space and visit the various installations placed around the theater (the class actually had a very informative map made that showed the placement of each piece, as well as some info about them).

Upon first entering the doors, visitors were immediately drawn to a piece titled Diskinect, which at first just appeared to be a very visually intense image projected onto a screen directly in front of the entrance; upon further examination onlookers began to determine that the projection they were seeing was actually a trippy, digital mirror of sorts. Using the technology behind the recently launched Microsoft Xbox Kinect camera, this artist had created an installation that truly incorporated the viewer. Most of the time the image looked like a very detailed, almost Predator-like thermal representation of what was in front of the Kinect, in actuality the “thermal” colors (blue through red to represent cold and hot) was actually representative of how far an object was from the Kinect itself; the closer you got, the “warmer” your colors got. Combine this rainbow of hues with the VJing (video mixing) happening behind the scenes and you’ve got yourself a pretty fantastic, and at times, almost overwhelming effect. With this installation being placed directly in front of the only entrance to the space, most attendees didn’t stand a chance of making it past without noticing the mirroring of their movements on the screen and stopping to take a look. Combined with bass-y subwoofer hits and ethereal sound effects Diskinect seemed to be a hit during the installation section of this show.

There were some other very interesting installations that also deserve mention; one that particularly caught my attention was called Kittens and Hand Grenades. KAHG from a distance looked like an older desktop Mac computer suspended from the ceiling with its screen pointed up and out of sight, upon closer inspection, a square cone of thin plexiglass was perched on the screen, and inside the plexiglass there appeared to be a jellyfish floating in thin air. This artist had managed to create a homemade hologram using only a old computer, some carefully looped and placed video and a few tiny pieces of plastic, which was very cool until one of the ties attached to the ceiling broke, causing the computer and holographic jellyfish to come crashing to the ground. The only other installation featured during this time was called Twitch, Twiddle, Tongue and was comprised of three separate projections on what appeared to be gray exercise balls. This installation was the least effective in my opinion, as there seemed to be some technical difficulties with the projectors happening, and the images were not very visible on the exercise balls.

Finally 8 o’clock rolled around and the installations were removed to make way for the real show, the performances. New Directions opened up with the aptly named Glass Ensemble, a band made up of about 20 people, all wielding glass objects, from a sculpture of a head to wine and beer bottles as well as some marbles and drinking glasses. The lights turned down low and a single pitch began to reverberate through the space: someone rubbing their finger around the edge of a crystal wine glass, amplified by a microphone over the 5.1 surround system in the theater. Soon many of these tones droned into the audience’s ears, along with a multitude of clinks and shatters as some of the instruments met their untimely demise at the hands of one artist with a hammer. The next piece was a “video poem”, which was a film of written words in seemingly random order used to create a poem both audibly and visually on the large projection screen at the front of the theater. Following the poem was a trio of violinists in strange renaissance style masks; these were not violinists in the traditional sense, as they used their instruments to create sounds rather than music. The eerie tones of their performance, combined with their haunting masks was quite a sight (and sound) to behold, overall it was a very striking performance.

Of the rest of the performances, one stuck out to me more so than the other ones: titled KillSyth 1982. This Killsyth appeared to be some sort of machine that the artist had built that the performance was built around, but ill get back to the machine in a second. The lights went down, and like post-apocalyptic custodians, two figures emerged from behind the curtain brandishing brooms that appeared to be made of silver wire and connected to the theaters sound system. As they began sweeping up the shattered ceramic material that covered the stage, scratchy, harsh tones reverberated over the speakers. The piles were then placed into jars which were placed into this machine. The machine was turned on, and appeared to also be mic’ed up, as long vibrating sounds shook through the whole room. Once the machine had completed its cycle, the artist removed the jar and handed it to a random audience member. These steps were repeated multiple times until the lights went down and the performance was over.

3 Responses

  1. Tony I am glad that you went to an interesting exhibition, other than that, which was presented on the blog. I would have enjoyed going to the exhibition because I have seen some people do some stuff with current technology like the xbox kinect and such. I like that you compared the motion capture as Predator-esque which is contemporary in itself. The Predator and the Xbox are symbols of our generation, and using such items as description and as a way to create an experience embody the youthfulness of the exhibition. Using things like mac computers, and subwoffers ……very interesting.

  2. Your descriptions of the pieces, settings, and performances was great! This was an interesting article to read, as it seems like your experience was very different from mine. The show sounds really neat, really different from anything I have gotten to see. The most interesting aspect, from what i read, was being able to experience an exhibit and performance back to back. Nice work!

  3. Thats pretty awesome this artist was able to use an entertainment device to create a unique art installation. That jelly fish also sounds like quite the technological/artistic feat. I like that art is in constant flux, and new styles are constantly being created. The performances at the end sound like they made this exhibit really legit.

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