While you’re still trying to figure out your class schedule for this quarter, UC Irvine’s arts department began this year prepared with a slew of fresh showcases from local, talented artists. Both running from Jan. 8 until Feb. 7, Kenny Berger’s “A Just Noticeable Difference” premiered last week along with Steve Fagin’s “The Surfing Memory Syndrome.”
Berger’s piece revolves around the mirrored image – seeing oneself as one is supposed to be seen but with one small change— a difference. This difference, as Berger puts it, is a “just noticeable difference – a minimum change in sensory input that a given test subject (i.e. a person) is able to detect perceptually.”
Berger’s inspiration? A childhood memory of his neighbor and family friend Lenny Berg, who in 1984 was arrested for trying to illegally ship weapons to Poland. He was also accused of distributing arms to the Soviet Union, Iraq and, his only successful attempt, Argentina. Although he pleaded for his release from federal court on the account of his involvement with the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, he was sent to prison.
“He was motivated strictly by profit and not by ideology,” Berger explained. “This was a case of pure greed.” Berger’s family found the situation unnerving, considering Lenny’s adherence to the Jewish faith. “Beyond what we could see, Lenny was in this unimaginable world of greed and violence,” Berger continued. This shelter from reality created Berger’s concept of the “family double,” or symmetry through normality.
“I really enjoyed his take on the combination of his own reality in the ’80s and the historical realities on the United States during the strange post-Cold War and post-Sept. 11 periods. His focus on a ‘double,’ or the symmetry, through these two aspects is truly remarkable,” said Julia Demektris, an art enthusiast present at the gallery opening.
“The persistent drive to return to the neo-avant-garde practices of the 1960s has been met with a political consciousness shaped by almost two decades of post-Cold War emphasis on internationalism and global interdependence, and this has led to more concern that we recognize the multiple ways that the positions we occupy mirror or parallel a range of other positions across the globe,” Berger said. “This also creates an imperative that we not fail to engage more fully with the differences that arise from the particularity of our experiences.”
Throughout the gallery, his emphasis on symmetry and slight differences plays its part. From the mirrored images of the viewers to the division of the space into proportioned rooms of projection, Berger truly gave thought to the viewer’s experience of his vision.
Steve Fagin’s portrayal of “The Surfing Memory Syndrome” also sparked the interest of curious visitors. “I’m just trying to wrap my head around it,” said Adriene Jenik, a professor at UC San Diego. “It feels lonely, like it’s about aging.”
The entire gallery was made to fit the scene of a crime; Fagin’s goal was to portray the inner workings of the mind. Visions of Samuel Beckett’s “Krapp’s Last Tape” (1958), the 1975 European Soccer Cup Final and “The Manchurian Candidate” filled the idle television screens surrounding the room, while names of witnesses, suspects or victims were scratched onto a wall. Ultraviolet footsteps led into a normal living room – a TV dinner was even left unfinished on a foldable tray in front of the couch.
The gallery’s main focal point, however, was the emptiness. The room carried the light tones of a jazz piece, whose happier sound led to an even more empty and lonely state for the viewer.
“A Just Noticeable Difference” can be seen in the Room Gallery of the UCI Claire Trevor School of the Arts, while “The Surfing Memory Syndrome” is housed at the University Art Gallery (UAG) all this month.