Once in a great while, you see something so new, so interesting, so far beyond the lengths and widths that your mind had stretched. Last Friday, in Kansas City’s downtown Art Walk, I had this experience. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. No long build-up today.
What I saw was an exhibit called “Reel to Reel” by visual artist Jeff Share and musical artist Jon Fisher. Childhood friends from Texas, they went their separate ways during college but have found themselves collaborating on a monumentally impressive, expansive artistic experience.
Think of a sculpture. A 3-D item made of some material or materials. Now add a mechanism, so that your sculpture moves. Now add electricity, so that the mechanism can be both more advanced and more refined. And now revert back to step 1 – a sculpture; a visually stimulating THING. It is aesthetically interesting, the mind pours over it, inspecting its tiny details.
This is not even the interesting part yet.
Within this sculpture is something else – a set. A model set of, say, a kitchen or bathroom or a hallway. A scale model. And either mounted onto the set or built in with it is a camera, which generates live video from inside, which is projected onto a monitor which itself is a part of the larger, exterior “electromechanical installation” or sculpture. So you have the sculpture, the set inside the sculpture and the film of the set, which is also a part of the original thing – the sculpture. But is the sculpture the first thing? Or have I assigned it “first thing” status?
And now let’s go further. The set is being moved or rotated by some mechanical means. Within the set are lights, such that as it moves, the shadows move and change. Or there are tiny granules of sand, which flow freely and move and fall into crevices of the motorized set. Now let’s combine this entire experience with music. And what if the music wasn’t merely preset and chosen by the artist as a means of underscoring, but was generated by the movement of those sand granules? Or by the movement of the sculpture as a whole? And what if that movement was not precisely choreographed, but allowed to occur at random? Jon Fisher explains:
“In each sculpture there is a microcontroller acting as an electronic “brain” for that piece. The microcontroller has the ability to turn on and off the various motors and lights within the sculpture. It also has the ability to communicate with a central computer running the whole show… generating in real time the soundtrack that is accompanying the video output of that piece… At the level of detail, chance is an integral part of the work. The algorithms generating the music heavily rely on computer-generated random numbers, though these are used in very tightly controlled windows of randomness.”
And the exhibit as a whole also functions like each individual piece, in that all of the pieces are linked and play off of each other, at times are projected onto a large movie-screen, which cuts between multiple pieces, which are all moving. So then as you watch, you see people go back and try to figure out which piece is being projected onto the larger screen at a given moment. There is a buzz, people calling out to strangers across the gallery, “Is it that one?” Shore and Fisher have created an exhibit that contains interactivity between art and viewer and between those viewers, as the art is occurring.
Just the scope of the idea is impressive, a big beautiful collaboration among different arts, sciences and concepts. Big things within small things within other things, within something else, all interacting at random with each other and the connoisseur. It is one of the few pieces of art of any kind I’ve experienced that so perfectly links the abstract and the tactile, the sort of thing the mind puzzles over, going round and round and thinking you’ve gotten to the end and you’re back to the beginning, or thinking you’re at the beginning and finding out you’re in the middle, or thinking you’re in the middle and finding out you’re in the middle, but the middle is something other than what you thought it was.
And even outside of the thing itself, what an inspiring thing it is to be able to be blown over by something, to so fully not see something coming. It’s invigorating. I’ve said before that I hate artists, which is true but incomplete. I hate most people in most groups. But I also love artists, and this is why, this is what restores my faith in us. That pieces like this can be created. That movies like the just released “Synechdoche, New York” can come along and boggle our minds for a solid week, until we run out and see it again. I have hopes to revisit both experiences. This is something my very great friend BJ would have really liked if he still lived in KC. I very much wish he could see it. Explanations are bound to be incomplete, something like this begs to be seen and felt and experienced. Then talked about. It is one of the greatest, most intriguing things I’ve ever witnessed.