Living in a Digital World

Natasha Aftandilians | Staff Photographer

Natasha Aftandilians | Staff Photographer
“Scalable Relations” delves into the current state of the world and analyzes technology in modern life through interactive digital media.

The Beall Center for Art and Technology in the Claire Trevor School of Arts is hosting an exhibition called “Scalable Relations,” showing the complexities and shifting contexts of today’s information society through digital media.
The exhibit brings together works by faculty of the UC Digital Arts Research Network (DARnet) and is open to viewers from Jan. 9 to Mar. 14. Its opening reception, held on Thursday, attracted more than two dozen artists, spectators, students and alumni ready to explore society’s dependency on digital media and its creative representation of evolving data.
With a total of six installations, the exhibit offers various interpretations of what role digital media has adopted in today’s society. Alhough the images are grand in size and radiant in color, the underlying message is not always so clear. However, at the opening reception, artists were pleased to find eager spectators prodding at its deeper meaning and logistical process.
The first installation by Sheldon Brown projects a large interactive image on the wall of houses swirling in a tornado-like motion. Users’ input, by a movable ball, shapes the interactions of roads, houses and landscape. The responsibility for creating urban structures is in the hands of each user, giving them the power to construct or destruct.
In describing his creation of algorithmic transformations, Brown explained, “Ultimately, I’m exaggerating the dependency that people have on the output of computer processes and its dependency on people’s input.” By creating a base of real-world data, such as the actual land formations of existing cities, the dramatic change from software input/output transforms the city into an unrecognizable new land.
Similarly, three other installations titled “Process 16,” “Conversation Map v.2.0” and “Cell Tango” explore the increase of digital media users and their dependency on technology in daily life. George Legrady’s and Angus Forbes’ “Cell Tango” projects an enormous collage of images and words that were contributed by the public via cell phones. Images vary from a birthday cake to a cutout picture replacing John McCain’s head with a baby’s face, while words range from “Palin” to “suck.”
Warren Sack relays the same message in his interactive installation, “Conversation Map v.2.0” with social network analysis and information visualization. By producing a diagram of thousands of e-mail messages sent to online public discussions, spectators are provided with an array of synonyms and metaphors that emerge from the discussions.
However, there are two installations that steer away from the recurring theme of digital media and instead explore nature versus technology. First, the “CO2 Playground” installation, created by Greg Niemeyer, provides a curious site for visitors to explore and observe changes in air quality due to human and plant activity. Two slides attached to the wall allow spectators to jump, run and slide down while monitoring air quality measurements at the computer nearby.
Other factors that affect air quality include still contemplation and human presence and absence. The shelf of plants situated between the two slides plays a vital role in the CO2 absorption and oxygen production of the installation.
The sixth installation, tucked behind the corner of the gallery, projects a video of a repetitive, soundless and colorless waterfall. In front of it are actual rocks and dirt that provide a fascinating contradiction of nature and technology. Of her piece “At Any Given Moment,” artist Rebeca Méndez said, “In an attempt to explore the nature of perception and media representation, this work focuses on the phenomenological approach of ‘stepping out’ in order to ‘see ourselves seeing.’ ”
As drinks flowed and food was shared, passionate artists and appreciative spectators conversed on opening night. It’s no wonder that “Scalable Relations” will undoubtedly be well-received. With more than half of the installations being interactive, visitors should be aware that more fun and participation is involved, rather than being contemplative and stationary.
Each installation reveals the artists’ masterful creativity and digital knowledge, while communicating a deeper social message that leaves spectators inquisitive. Interestingly enough, each installation brings to light society’s dependency on digital media and technology by artists who have completely depended on digital technology themselves. However, this dynamic is what keeps the exhibition tasteful and leaves visitors yearning for more.