Steel Ice & Stone is a multi-media interactive installation.
Nine suspended LED panels and sensor-triggered sound create an environment for memory recall.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

All the Rage

As the opening of Gowanus Ballroom show neared, I was reminded that every exhibition has its caveats. An artist friend long ago bemoaned his gallery for barely helping him out when his art furniture was exhibited there. True, they had paid for its transportation, but not much else.

Let's think about this: what is part of the gallery's responsibility and what is the artist's job?

It's in the artist's best interest to see to the details so the work gets exhibited they way it was intended. Yet, the mission and policies of the gallery have to be respected. The artist begrudging forks over 50% of the sale price, but the gallery pays the outrageous rent on the gallery--since they're often in tony parts of town, employ those stunning, trendy-clad receptionists (male or female), make the phone calls to the prospective buyers and--most importantly--hobnob in the environments where those buyers lurk--scouting for them like cool but searing sharks.

The artist has to take care of the inventory--create it, crate it and hoof it to the white cube--
and call the maître d' to ask them to trade their opening night with another waiter....

Not in my case, since I'm working with public exhibition spaces where the altruistic nature of those involved makes them eager to be helpful. That was the case at ArtWorks, and it was also at the Ballroom.
The metal smiths, knowledgeable of what was needed, welded the eye hooks to the pipe which they supplied. And, they let my riggers use their equipment to cut the metal and operate the forklift to hoist them to the ceiling--really nice guys. It can't be overlooked that the place doubles as something other than an art space. The Ballroom's charm, its rough, underground energy comes from that fact. My pristine panels and sound in those surroundings fit just right--even if it went against the grain of what some consider art and an art space.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Open to Possibilities

The rigger casing the joint.
Apprehensions about working with students are not without foundation--their wild ambition and impulse can present set-backs, even when they arrive to a project with some experience and the best of intentions.

Not the case this time. I contacted my college's Entertainment Technology Department which offers courses in theatre engineering--everything from special effects design to performance rigs. Got a name and called him. Not a man of many words, my neck got a little kink when he said his cell phone wasn't working at the moment. OK, meet you at the Ballroom, I said.

He took a look and went to work. Brought an assistant who operated the forklift as if it were on toe shoes, skirting around sculptures in the process of fabrication. Another buddy came by and the three put up and took down the installation, getting faster and defter every time.

Australian artist Ken Unsworth creates a number of suspended works using rounded stones; some are high above, others hover close to the ground. His outdoor rendition appealing to me for the shadows it casts underneath it. Though it does get difficult to suspend objects without seeing the cables, it becomes an aesthetic decision for Unsworth's as the cables are carefully arranged.

Calder's work at the
National Gallery.
Though a stretch, Alexander Calder's mobiles can be considered suspended works. The fact that the components are dependent on one another for their location/orientation and are intended to move and create new combinations puts them above a suspended piece; I'm curious if his studies in mechanical engineering had any influence on his work (he said that he studied engineering for no other reason other than he liked a person who did). Stories like this are so much fun.

Another thought: Calder's work gets much energy from its motion, yes, but also significant are the shadows the pieces cast--and move--along the walls, adding a fleeting time component to his timeless work.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Craning the Neck

With a honed eye on anything and everything related to a facet of my installation, I smiled with delight at Jan Staller's White Series currently at Alan Klotz Gallery. I've followed Staller's work over the years, it remains sharp and surreal, a deliberate treatment of color which sings equally from 8-hour night exposures--like the one of the old West Side Highway on/off ramps--as the ones of construction items suspended from cranes outside his Charles Street place, as reported on the Gallery's website.
The white background of an overcast day reduces the size of the items; they take on a toy-like quality, but that reduction allows the eye to concentrate on the careful composition of the image. The NYT ran 15 images on their website (; here are two I particularly like.

The ceiling at Gowanus Ballroom is in varying heights; upon entry, where SIS will hang, is around 20 feet; it opens to another section double in height which further breaks into a mezzanine which will contain more art and a low-ceilinged shop, off-limits to viewers. SIS could never hang in anywhere other than where it is; the ceilings would be too hard to negotiate.

Like everything else that has never been done before, it has to begin with a sketch.

The shop master drew what he was thinking for the riggers to follow; and it started to take shape. Saturday was a dry run; it took a long time. As a site-specific work, the installation must be designed anew every time it shows. Being open to possibilities,  deep breaths and smiling, and hoping that it works. In the end, it always does.
Friday in the afternoon, the entire installation goes up again, this time, looped through the metal pipe on the ceiling, according to the diagram. It's leveled off, and the electronics installed. I want to bring it there with just the volume needing adjustment. Then, it's show time!

Four of the nine hanging, still with their bubble wrap. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Moving Forward While Standing Still

Focusing on the matter at hand remains a challenge when looking for the next exhibition. After all, a work such as SIS was not meant to be stored under my bed; it's not easy finding an exhibition space that will give me 1000 square feet with power and suspending capabilities. Adding the difficulty that this work would ever be sold (to whom?), I often hear, "Thank you, but it doesn't fit our program". I've applied to a number of exhibition prospects in the US and abroad, and I think something's gonna give; the reaction when people see it is that they're rapt, and that's what's driving it.

Similar was when I walked into a gallery some months ago and saw Joel Shapiro's work at the Pace on 25th Street. Frozen in space were a series of rectangles--boxes and beams; nice to see that the gallery also exhibited a prototype--just as balanced, just as beautiful.

Another Thursday evening a few weeks later, I went to Moving Image, a huge exhibition employing light in various forms to create art pieces. Some were transmitted through monitors hanging from the ceiling of the cavernous warehouse, others were projected onto screens from projectors rigged to the iron beams of the Chelsea Tunnel.

Some of the content was innovative, and some predictable. However the sheer size of the place--and some of the works in it--were astounding and absorbing. There were some smaller rooms off the main space but the long gallery was the experience to behold.

In full contrast, a small group show in an apartment on Roosevelt Island featured "Game Over", an installation by Iris Xing. Upon looking at her bio, she's a student at my alma mater, the Photography and Related Media MFA program at SVA.

In a darkened bedroom of the apartment,  the viewer is invited to project images suspended from the ceiling using the light on their smart phone. The images are of the closing slide of phone games--Game over--of which the artist is critical, commenting that lives nowadays are thrown away on the stupidity of electronic entertainment rather than using travel time more efficiently--even if used for reflection (enter Walker Evans' subway portrait series). Spent tapping away on a phone, buried in a crossword or in a mere trance, time lingered in transit is suspended animation. Moving while not; transformed into another being when deposited in another location, awakened in new surroundings.

BTW: What I didn't shoot myself I liberally borrowed fro the Internet and the MoMA Library.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Gowanus Ballroom, Brooklyn

With the installation's opening just a few weeks away, details need to be taken care of in the midst of other preoccupations.

I ordered a new panel from China to replace the one that was giving me issues in Trenton. For some reason the light went dead 6 inches (20 cm) from the top. Luckily the diffusing grid behind it spread the light somewhat in December, but I have to replace it for Brooklyn.

Looking at the mass of wires, cables and extension chords on the panels was sobering: I have no memory of what was done just a few months ago. And, the engineer in Trenton said he can't work this show. Being in the epicenter of the white-hot art scene does makes it easier to chase down new riggers here in Brooklyn--some leads are from colleagues where I teach. 

Hanging the works on the ceiling of the Gowaus will be pretty similar to ArtWorks: Chain and pipe are fixed to the wooden ceiling and from there, the pieces are hooked on. I hope to resolve the initial hanging this week. From there, I'll hang a dry run and mark the spots on the pipe so it can go up (hopefully) quickly the day off the show, June 13.

The Gowanus Ballroom is a working metal shop and the front entrance where SIS will hang is the access to it. I'm suffering some pain about the installation having to come up and down twice while the rest of the artist's work resides happily and undisturbed on the balcony of the Ballroom (where the exhibition continues) but getting to the ceiling of the balcony is very challenging (easily 40 feet--14 meters) so I'm happy where I am. Besides: it's the lead-off of the show.

Getting the word out is the parallel project, as is a quick remix of the sound and installing the new sound units. 

When I visited a little Kickstarter party a few weeks ago at their new splashy offices in what was once rough and industrial Greenpoint, Brooklyn, I chatted up my installation and gave out invitations. Is this the fun part? Yeah, it is. But so is the rest of the journey.

Special thanks to Graphiqs Groove for the soundtrack on the vid.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Newly Wired

With the Brooklyn exhibition around the corner I had to make some sharp turns. The Kickstarter rewards were partially fulfilled, others are almost done and had pushed to the back burner until other critical issues were dealt with.

One was applying to a series of grants and festivals. That's a venture into uncertainty but one that must be undertaken nonetheless. The work has to get out there so venues are constantly being explored; since this is a work meant for public viewing, many of the exhibition spaces are awarded through competition. 

However, front and center was resolving the electronics.

Best efforts from my team for the first show yielded something that worked, but not dependably. Although Dr. Marantz is researching what is behind the inconsistencies and exploring a redesign to nail a two-sensor input and a single output, I had to face facts that we all have many pressing issues (called jobs) that get in the way of dedicating a large block of undisturbed time to come up with a new circuit. 

So I got a new engineer.

A new unit was designed, again programmed from an Arduino. An additional shield controls play/record details (the sound-corder chip on the original unit came with its own board), and the original sensors were scrapped for a new binocular one. The sound is transferred from the computer rather than recorded from the jack output and is contained on a micro chip. A card reader with a USB input transfers the data file.

It all fits in a box the size of a fat cigarette (what's that?) pack. The engineer delivered the new unit yesterday, and luckily the IRS owed me money so I could pay him off. 

Complain, complain: I'm miffed at myself for not specifying black wires to the IR sensor (they're white and red), so I have to shrink wrap those before show time. 
The engineer who designed and built the new units has a company of his own called Human Condition Global. They're all over the map with many different types of projects bound together by user interaction.

Recently, they developed an informational piece for a pharmaceutical company to introduce a new medication for those suffering from heart ailments and hypertension. They did so by outfitting a moving van trailer with booths and chairs, and flatscreen monitors. Each station also contains devises designed to effectively deliver the physical sensations of an oncoming heart condition such as a heart attack, angina or heart failure. The experiential exhibit's target audience are physicians who often never experienced these sensations. The trailer went to cities across the country where cardiologists were invited to "experience" what their patients suffer and the opportunity to learn about a new medication to combat the condition.

Back to Brooklyn, where anything of any significance seems to be taking place.

The Gowanus Ballroom's main space
The Gowanus Ballroom will show SIS in June; the date still being up in the air since the show preceding it may need a week to linger. I met with the curator last week and the space for SIS would be the entry, separated from the doorway and rest of the cavernous, two-tiered space by some heavy curtains. The curtains will be the same black rayon felt I got in a tiny store across from FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) that hid the mass of wires exploding out of the units in the Trenton show.

I was introduced to a possible rigging engineer outside the college where I teach yesterday. In a few brief sentences I described what I needed, and the barrage of emails will begin again. I want to bring the Trenton guys back, but I don't think I can afford them and I'm close to being tapped. I sure wish I could bartend, though I don't have the looks. Just the dirty jokes. I guess another Kickstarter (heh, heh).

Next chapter, coming right up!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Trail of Tears

A number of weeks--months--had to pass before mustering up the courage to post again.

From December 1st until just a few weeks ago I was consumed with the first showing of the installation in Trenton, NJ. An onslaught of bad weather and bad electronics made everyday from the last post until now a painful ordeal.

No amount of patient revise was able to make the electronics work beyond three units and it remains a mystery why they malfunctioned in the first place. As I figuratively shovel out from the weeks of ice and snow I've been under, I'm back in full force, planning for the forward thrust of the installation's next exhibition in Brooklyn's Gowanus Ballroom.

In the meantime, I'm in the process of uploading the sound from the pieces and internalizing a major change to the nine installation images. I exchanged one of the images of steel for another. The image used was of the steel threads spun from the inner shaft of a ship propellor; I recorded the borer that produced the threads and its sound is in one of the soundtracks. Visually it's abstract and evocative just like the sound coming from the machine that made it.

Some insights on the work and its evolution in the last hours:

In Trenton, I hired an engineer to rig the piece to the ceiling of the public art space, Trenton ArtWorks. It's a great old factory with a lot of history at its foundation and a steel frame work spans the building in both directions. As stated previously on this blog, I'd lost considerable sleep thinking about how nine pieces were gonna hang but the engineer said, no sweat. He's a theater guy, and he said the total weight  (300 lbs) was nothing and went to work with a colleague.

They ran extension cords and gaffer taped them to the wall with unsightly tape. Taking deep breaths, I thought, gosh, why does it have to look so slapped together?
However, I lost sight I was dealing with someone who puts together theatre productions. He's used to making things work while hiding others. Darkness goes a long way, I discovered.

By the time the lights went out and the LEDs were turned on, people walked around the exhibition space, drawn in by floating rectangles of light and sounds of who-knows-what but sounded cool. No one saw the bright orange extension cords or the gaffers. It was a hit. 

Brooklyn is next; another set of variables, another adventure.

Can't wait.

Above, the rigging engineers. A panel already hanging can
be seen behind the man on the right. Right: the installa-
tion when lit.