Technology overload? Join the club. But should one have even a casual interest in the intersection of art, technology and digital culture, the Soap Factory's exhibit "Art(ists) on the Verge" is a must.
A collective effort now in its third year, "AOV" is the brainchild of the media-oriented arts agency Northern.Lights.mn. This year's edition is a shadowy, compelling experience that features interactive installations by five emerging artists from the Twin Cities who took part in a yearlong program funded by the Jerome Foundation.
Drew Anderson, Michael Hoyt, Caly McMorrow, Anthony Tran and Aaron Westre delve variously into ideas of public and private space, community activism and personal memory in works that challenge the visitor to participate.
Anderson's "Near the Ghosts of Sugarloaf" is rooted in his memory of hunting in Minnesota's North Woods. A large suspended open globe is filled with a landscape of miniature trees and brush. A miniature hunter, sporting a tiny camera as a head, moves slowly along a circular track capturing whatever is in its path.
The viewer enters Anderson's deliberately simplistic tableau by picking up a pulse-sensitive portable projector that suggests a gun. Wherever the viewer moves, the "gun" projects onto the floors or walls what the automaton hunter sees at that moment -- including the viewer. "Sugarloaf" ironically turns the participant into a hunter (or the hunted).
Scale is a critical element in Anderson's charade. The expansive North Woods have been shrunk to a miniature, while the viewer/hunter roams around the cavernous Soap Factory spaces creating individual narratives with the projector. The installation's material and formal clumsiness is Anderson's intended foil to its technology.
Hoyt's "Poho Posit" shoots the viewer back to the real-life terrain of Minneapolis' Powderhorn Park. Through video and a sculptural Google map of the neighborhood installed on the gallery floor, "Poho" gives visual form to the activities -- crime, events, lost cats, items for sale -- posted online on a neighborhood forum. Trained as a painter, Hoyt visited the listed sites, re-created the incidents as hand-painted, stop-motion videos and posted them online.
Using a mouse, the viewer clicks on the map to activate Hoyt's videos. His painterly expressions dress a stolen garbage can or a burglary with poetic reality.
In form and feel, McMorrow's "Status Update" recalls the work of French conceptual artist Christian Boltanski with its use of eerie suspended lighting, implied domestic spaces and audio recordings. Viewers are prompted to record answers to questions asked through an early-20th-century pedestal telephone. These recordings are in sync with a spiral of antique lighting that turns on and off in changing sequences.
Bending technology to conform to an earlier sense of time, "Status" quietly questions our technological advancements and our effectiveness as communicators.
Besides raising ghosts of the psychedelic 1960s, Tran's "Wire less" puts the viewer at the center of technological bombardment. Making visible the body's electromagnetic environs, "Wire" captures our presence without asking through 3-D body tracking and ambient radio frequency sensors. Called Hertzian space, the room-like environment and full-length mirror give added meaning to the term "self-awareness."
With "City Fight," Westre, who is a trained architect and computer programmer, has created an entertaining and informative video game that addresses issues of urban planning and smart growth. Opponents -- designated by red and blue -- try to beat the pants off each other by building the best city. Standing in boxes facing a large screen that depicts two city grids, the players strive to secure skyscrapers, parks and apartment blocks that are thrown up for the taking, often sabotaging each other in the process. An occasional bomb allows players to destroy segments of their opponent's grid.
At its heart, however, "Fight" is less about entertainment and more about the creative uses of technology. Beating a nasty opponent is one thing; building a livable city is something altogether different.
Similarly, "AOV3" thinks beyond the complexities of technology to reveal how it might feed the art world's ever-expanding appetite.