Art on a Grand Scale

NIKKI JEE/New University

Rounding the coal-colored corridor, one stumbles upon what appears to be a lanky, floating body within a strange, amorphous mass of an intricate mess. The dim lights makes for an eerie atmosphere. Without warning, a piercing tapping sounds in the background, much like the din of a construction area.

White tubes connected by metallic moldings fashion the limbs and torso of the doll. Air pumps through the tubes, forcing the work of art to glide as if it was enacting its own modern, interpretive dance. It almost seems poetic. It almost seems like a puppet. No. It was “BioMorphic 2011,” the first of three works in an exhibition by Chico MacMurtrie hosted at the Beall Center over in UC Irvine’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts.

Hung by silver wiring, “BioMorphic” was created with materials that most of us come across in our technology-infatuated world such as high tensile fabric, pneumatics (a branch of mechanics that deals with the mechanical properties of gases), pressure sensors, electronics, computing and software; these elements set an ongoing futuristic tone as patterned by the other works. Reflected in the awkward motions, the robotic components stimulate a slight discomfort for the viewer.

Yet, due to the social activity, the production instills its own humanistic qualities. The sensors at the bottom of the display aid in breathing life into the materials, as if feeling the presence of another.

The next work seemed even more indiscernible than the former after coming to face with the familiar appearance of convoluted chaos. Unsure how to approach it, one can be overwhelmed by an air of uncertainty. Perhaps, the sensors were malfunctioning? Then, finally, a light bulb flashes and air streams into the tubing.

This artwork exudes “experiences of time and space from the inside and the outside” as it was aptly named “Inner Space 2010.” Complete with a high-pitched whistling from “clicking valves,” it slowly but surely balloons, ending with an exoskeleton of a space ship. Then begins the gradual process of shrinking back to the original, limp form.

Despite the similarities, “Inner Space” enacted its performance in stages. The noise commences, and the sculpture goes back to gradually filling up with air, prompting the observer to utilize patience. Interestingly, the movement draws the gazer in, nearly giving an invitation to touch the work. Upon examining the “extreme tightening of the skin” of the tubes, one nearly feels the flow of air, a testament to involving the audience in the inner workings of the inflatable machine. It creates an individualistic environment, connecting back to humanity and the future.

“Birds 2008,” the final of the trio in the collection, took one through the exact same process. Walk up. Sensors on. Lights switch. Air pumps. The object moves.

However, an aspect of absurd humor integrates into the artwork. Following a slight curvature, the row of what appeared to be detached legs illuminate in fluid movements. An element of pseudo-animalistic and human-like traits existed for the exterior quality of the tubing, making it seem like the “skin” of animals. At all angles, the artwork demonstrated a ludicrous film shot of mannequin legs flapping about like birds. Lacking torsos and faces, individualism cannot be pronounced found.

Yet, it seemed more celestial and appealing. Overhead, the ethereal wiring becomes reminiscent of hanging webs of golden thread. The mechanisms animate the work for this biotech production to breathe life, inducing a stirring aura. The birds “begin their cycle [to] accumulate air to fill their bodies for a full extension of their wings … giving a sense of life.” A side description reveals that if the viewers encroach upon the surrounding space excessively, a “death cycle” is triggered. Once agitating the others’ behaviors, the birds prematurely ended their life.

MacMurtrie, a New Mexican artist who holds an M.F.A in New Forms and Concepts from UCLA, prompts the relationship between technology and humans and questions the idea of artificial life by his creation of “natural systems.” Notions of “air flow,” “constant, rhythmic and breathing sounds,” and a “life cycle” stimulate viewers to look past the immediate surface.

In the end, the exhibit is only an assembly of three works within an enclosed space. Essentially the artwork consists of the same materials. But diverse moldings provide for a distinct concept and display various types of energy, and ultimately, to the viewer, a different form. Take five minutes of your time to stop by to immerse yourself in the simplicity of contrast or just plain, modern weirdness. Once here, indulge yourself in art.

For more information about the Beall Center’s exhibits, visit