Sunday, 16 June 2013

ISEA2013 searches outside the box. Then animates it.

Ian Haig, Night of the Living Hippy, 2013

ISEA2013
Ian Haig, Nandita Kumar, Raewyn Turner & Brian Harris
Verge Gallery: June 8 - 18, 2013


ISEA2013 is the 19th International Symposium of Electronic Art which showcases the best media artworks from around the world. Combining a three day conference, numerous exhibitions, performances, public talks and workshops held at various venues across Sydney, ISEA2013 inspires dynamic dialogues and provoking debates.

Verge Gallery presents the work of Ian Haig, Nandita Kumar, Raewyn Turner & Brian Harris. With a penchant for classic horror films, the title of Haig's work intrigued me. Night of the Living Hippy directly references artist Paul Thek's 1967 work The Tomb where the artist placed himself as the dead hippy. The grotesque skeleton laid out on the table is decomposing and fairly gut-wrenching. Through modern technology the artist is able to reanimate parts of the skeleton - fingers move stiffly up and down, toes stretch side to side - in a strangely perverse dance of the dead.

Also reflected in this work is notions of death, the value we place on life and the art world strange relationship to death. Artists are more famous, their work more valuable after they die, we are quick to throw phrases such as 'Painting is dead' with the advent of any new technology. Ironically and somewhat appropriately I overheard a man comment at the opening of the show that 'Digital is dead'. Why do we feel the need to replace one form of expression with another? Why can't the two live harmoniously together?     

Ian Haig, Night of the Living Hippy, 2013
Raewyn Turner & Brian Harris, Downwind, 2013
Downwind, a project by Raewyn Turner & Brian Harris, explores differences in 'olfactory sensitivity due to the genetic basis of human olfactory variability'. I'll admit, I'm not entirely sure what that all means but I feel it has something to do with our sense of smell triggering memories or emotions. As individuals we carry specific and very individual odours and these are reliant on numerous environmental factors. The artists are currently working with scientific research in olfaction to explore how smell can lead to behavioural changes. 

The room is scattered with paper lanterns that are fitted with motion detectors. As you move past they pop out and omit a distinctive odour that is not discernible at first but sneaks up on you gradually. There are two sugar installations - the first is a silver dish mounted on the wall with a lid that moves up and down, you are instructed to use the spoon and put some sugar on your tongue, this is meant to heighten your sense of smell. The other sugar device is located in the corner of the room and is a funnel that is pushing sugar into a silver dish below. These sculptures are strangely beautiful with an 'other-worldly' quality. Even without the aid of sugar the smell becomes pungent and thick. This is probably intensified by the sheer number of people in the gallery.      

Raewyn Turner & Brian Harris, Downwind, 2013

Raewyn Turner & Brian Harris, Downwind, 2013

Raewyn Turner & Brian Harris, Downwind, 2013

Raewyn Turner & Brian Harris, Downwind, 2013

Raewyn Turner & Brian Harris, Downwind, 2013
I was very much looking forward to seeing the work of Nandita Kumar as I had previously been shown images of her detailed dioramas. Inside a large glass bottle the artist has created a another world from sound and sensory electronic equipment. These created worlds look almost organic, almost natural in there private eco-climate and perhaps this is the point. Historically technology and nature have existed in opposition to one another but what if this wasn't the case. As Kumar asks, 'What if rather than reshaping the world to suit man's nature, technology was turned to reshaping that nature - to reshaping man himself?'  
Nandita Kumar, eLEMENT: EARTH, 2013
eLEMENTS: EARTH presents a world where technology and nature are harmonised. There is a sensory element so that when you motion past the glass it omits a sound. These sounds are 'nature based' and resemble birds chirping, rain, wind ect. with no sound being played twice. The sheer detail and delicacy of the work is astounding, with people unable to walk away. If this is what nature and technology look like when they work together then it is as beautiful as a sunrise and as stimulating as a smart phone. My only disappointment was that there was not more of them. All those people crowded around a small plinth made it difficult to view and appreciate to its complete potential. Nonetheless, pretty spectacular.  
Nandita Kumar, eLEMENT: EARTH, 2013

Nandita Kumar, eLEMENT: EARTH, 2013

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