'These shows form sometimes like planets out of gas clouds."
That's curator Jessica Hunter Larsen talking about Colorado College's I.D.E.A. Space's newest exhibit, Systems & Subversions. Like all I.D.E.A. shows, it's a thinking person's affair.
It started when Hunter Larsen started musing over various kinds of systems, natural and artificial, and how they can be hacked and explored, rather than gazed upon. Her subsequent quest for artists who engage in disrupting matter and system elements proved fruitful. Assembled are: Alchemist Jon Cohrs, sound wave geneticist Nurit Bar-Shai, topographical manipulator Scott Johnson, scenic re-animator Marina Zurkow, and post-human code breakers Graham Wakefield and Haru Ji.
OK, they're artists, too. Stay with me.
Biomechanical researchers currently teaching in Seoul, Wakefield and Ji specialize in computer-generated, fully interactive environments. Projected onto their screens are different organisms and environments — all digital, and all self-sustaining. The visuals are reminiscent of nebulae — spots, swirls and dashes in vibrant pinks, purples and yellows hurtling through space. Gallery-goers interact with them by walking into a Kinect sensor field, their motions and actions deciding what happens in the environment.
"We were looking for a way for people to feel more immersed as a part of the system," Ji says.
New York City artist Bar-Shai engineers her artwork by growing specific bacteria on agar (a gelatinous substrate) in Petri dishes. Bar-Shai then exposes the dishes to sound waves, creating an artificial topography within the bacterial community.
Johnson, a Colorado College associate art professor who's shown at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, maps the notion of vegetation creeping back and reclaiming the land, charting how human behaviors interact with natural systems.
Hunter Larsen describes Jon Cohrs of Brooklyn as an "18th-century traveling cure-all salesman." Cohrs' site-specific piece is a series of old-timey advertisements for his "Alviso's Medicinal All-Salt," a darkly humorous take on snake oil. Cohrs, however, made the stuff from distilled pharmaceuticals and chemicals he (with the help of a University of California-Berkeley researcher) found and extracted from normal drinking water.
Zurkow, meanwhile, formulated software to create a random storyline. The Brooklyn video artist, who specializes in seamlessly looped animated works, created a program with a probability equation to determine what character appears on the screen and how it interacts with its environment.
"Each of them had enough repetition and variation that I didn't see the sense in authoring every single event in a linear fashion," Zurkow says. "It made more sense to create software that would treat a landscape as a stage and leave the interactions of characters to chance."
Got all that? If nothing else, remember that as much as you react to this show, it'll also react to you.