The premise for The Synergy Project, Claudia Esslinger's new multimedia installation, sounds heady: It uses video and sound to provoke questions about how sequence and juxtaposition change meaning.
But the coined-at-conferences art jargon actually does Esslinger something of a disservice. Synergy promises to be fun, whether or not you're familiar with the term "visual phrase." (Basically, a video clip.)
"The purpose is to have people question who has control over narratives," says Esslinger, a professor of art at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. "Who makes up our stories in our lives?"
To stir such inquiries, Esslinger puts the viewer in charge at her installation, opening Aug. 31 at Colorado College's I.D.E.A. Space. From a podium reminiscent of a conductor's stand, gallery guests can choose which of the 65 video clips and 24 sound clips will be projected onto a 27-foot panoramic triptych.
"I'm providing the vignettes, but both the sequence and story changes with each viewer," explains Esslinger.
One clip shows two men dressed in white hazmat jumpsuits carrying a vintage, wood-framed TV on a gurney through a leaf-strewn wooded area. The costumes and props lend the image a strange and disconcerting feel. Another clip shows an antique chair on a sparse beach.
"The whole is greater than the sum of the parts," Esslinger says about the power of juxtaposition. "You jostle each others' meaning, make it deeper and wider, there are more contingencies and layers."
With the aid of Isadora interactive digital media software, viewers can play with the order, speed and volume of the clips.
"I love the idea of the viewer taking an active role in creating a piece along with the artist," says Jessica Hunter Larsen, curator of the I.D.E.A. Space. "When you go to a video installation piece, often you don't walk in at the beginning and sit down and watch it all the way through. Often you walk in the middle of it and you have to catch up and figure out what's happening. Claudia has embraced that thoroughly, and she takes it one step further."
Esslinger, a 55-year-old Brooklyn native, began her career as a printmaker and became increasingly interested in video and digital media. She views her transition in mediums as a natural progression.
"I know a lot of printmakers who have gone into video and digital media," she says. "There are a lot of similarities. The layering of images in printmaking is pretty similar to how I work with digital media."
Music, however, poses a consideration not found in her former craft. For the audio component of Synergy, Esslinger called upon Kenyon colleague Brian Harnetty to mix the sound clips. And she teamed up with CC music professor Ofer Ben-Amots in 2006 to make a performance piece titled Avis Urbanus, which will be featured at the closing reception for the exhibit.