NEAT: New Experiments in Art and Technology

The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco

Written by:
Emily S. Mendel
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The fresh and exciting new exhibit at San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum (the CJM), displays 14 large pieces that combine art and technology by nine talented artists. Commissioned specifically for this exhibit, the work consists of fascinating and fun digital, robotic, and video pieces, plus art that utilizes sound and light.

The CJM’s chief Curator Renny Pritikin, in consultation with artist Paolo Salvagione, engaged artist/engineers from several generations, including Jim Campbell, Paul De Marinis, Gabriel Dunne, Mary Franck, Alan Rath, Paolo Salvagione, Micah Elizabeth Scott, Scott Snibbe, and Camille Utterback, to create or update pieces that blend the technical with the aesthetic. And although all the results are noteworthy, some do better than others in achieving that blend.

The impetus for NEAT is the approaching fiftieth anniversary of Bell Telephone Laboratory’s sponsored EAT (Experiments in Art and Technology) in which artists including Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Whitman and John Cage were paired with scientists to create unique performances that combined art and science, including the first use in art of video projection, wireless sound transmission and Doppler sonar. The technological revolution has enabled art and science to merge easily. Artists can use engineering equipment without the complexity and money that would have been necessary 50 years ago.

The first piece, as you enter the exhibition, is Paolo Salvagione’s “Rope Fountain” (2015), created out of nylon rope, 3D printed housings and motors, which resembles a series of water fountains or spacial drawings moving in myriad directions. Think of a series of thin vacuum cleaner hoses moving on their own. Salvagione just finished his term as an Artist in Residence at Autodesk’s Pier 9, and his joinder of engineering and art is apparent in “Rope Fountain.”

I was very taken with Camille Utterback’s intriguing interactive video project, “Entangled” (2015), which tracks the movement of viewers and transforms them into abstract projections. She used evanescent, two-layered 81 x 144 inch scrims on which was painted an abstract in pleasing tones. She developed a program that allowed viewers’ movements to affect both sides of the dual scrims. The artistry and the technology blended together well, without seeming gimmicky.

Jim Campbell’s creative new work, “Broken Movie” (2015), is a large-scale projection that uses individual pixels to project found home movies onto a white wall. At first, the low resolution moving pixels don’t resemble anything except abstract dots, but if you stand back, you may be able to see street scene being displayed. I focused the camera of my iPhone on the wall and could then make the scene out clearly. Campbell also placed pixels on the adjoining walls in an effort to extend the moving image in three-dimensions, but this was less successful in composing a narrative.

Of the four robotic pieces by Alan Rath, two feature eyes. “Voyeur III” (2007) has two large eyes on a stand, and is composed of fiberglass, aluminum, G-10, custom electronics, and LCDs. “Four Eyes” (2006) is made of wood, acrylic, PVC, polypropylene, custom electronics, and LCDs. Both pieces are based on the eyes of Rath’s wife. His art has humor and panache, especially “Forever” (2012) with feathers.

As well as being of interest to art mavens and techies, this is a great show for the whole family. Some of the art has sound and motion that the viewer can adjust easily — very entertaining. The CJM has lots of gallery tours, lectures, programs and special events, including its annual family gala, which would add to a visit. And in keeping with the theme of NEAT, the show’s catalog is digital. It will be up on the CJM’s website at the end of October.


©Emily S. Mendel 2015   All Rights Reserved.


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