Digital Arts at the Beall Center

I pulled the glossy handles of the Beall Center’s gallery door and walked into what looked a lot like my living room, minimal, straightforward and lonely, with a ’90s TV set and a vintage patterned armchair accented by a black lamp.

A tad confused but still unfazed, I attempted to analyze the scenery before me with the utmost intensity, searching for any signs of technology, other than the obsolete tube box. Then, I caught a glimpse of chaos to my right.

Rounding the corner, I faced the aftermath of an explosion:  paint-splattered, crinkled newspapers and opened bags of Trader Joe’s corn tortilla chips with their original receipts lay at my feet. Strewn on the gray, frigid floor was the ubiquitous Subway bag next to a complete Star Wars DVD set. A royal blue Crayola Washable marker could be partially made out among a Jell-O package, chairs, tables, pots, a hammer, stools, glassware and crumpled paper bags.

Amidst the clutter of mismatched objects stood a petite girl clad in a navy, flower-print dress who, with her knees supported by a fleece-like blanket, struggled to release a stubborn plaster disk from its mold. To my right, a brunette male character in a red hoodie concentrated on the Mac screen before him, headphones placed upon his temples.

My initial thoughts were, “Oh, this must be part of the exhibit and the two people are also constituents of the works,” acknowledging the limitless boundaries of the definition of art. My naïve self continued this moronic mentality until the pair looked up with eagerness and surprise. Then a realization set in. Having initially misinterpreted the “art”, it was clearly a work still in progression, and I had so rudely interrupted the two students.

Both fourth years, the two who I mistakenly characterized as part of the display, said they were working on the exhibit, titled “Tick,” promising to showcase a number of their contraptions for the opening night on June 2. They stated that they are part of an undergraduate class that centered on “reflexivity, destruction, interactivity [and] repetition” within the fusion of art and technology. Under this notion, the students had taken up the project of personalizing a set of nine artworks in lieu of their self-generated ideas.

Corinne Chan illustrated the particulars of her current, collaborative project with fellow student, Kelly Mayfield, talking about the interactions of the aforementioned plastered disks, rotating at an axis on top of the pipes. While some of the circular molds were static, the others, dressed in paint and moving with the help of a motor, would “influence” the rest of the discs by the transfer of kinetic energy and having the paint rubbing against one another. Chan’s vision connects back to the spiritual and religious realms of the Hindu and Buddhist sects in art. In her words, “deconstructing and…constructing” when channeling the concept of a reactionary cycle in a mapped out world.

On the other hand, Noe Gaytan (the male figure I had described), took a modernistic approach to his project. Involving the usage of a screen, wiring and antiquated furniture, the artwork would emphasize the element of a “performative ghost” through the interactive talk show and infrared light filter from a camera’s lens.

Chan and Gaytan also spoke about another partially developed design. A simple wooden structure, outfitted with an attached sensor-based step, covered a grating fan. Once a number of amorphous sculptures top the artwork, it would address the participatory components and a redirection of landscape   through the shapeless models.

After talking with the two, their intrigue for art caught up with me. Chan and Gaytan’s willingness to provide a “tour” of the potential exhibition, along with their down-to-earth and courteous personalities, demonstrated their ardent devotion as artists. I could tell that they were genuinely immersed in and meticulous about the minute details, like with Chan’s sharp precision of laying down the painter’s tape with the aid of a measuring tape. They infused themes and concepts beyond the exterior scope of the physicality of the materials, encouraging attendees to engage with their mind and body.

Not only does the technological aspect come into play when creating digital art, but a crucial element of heavy-duty work also sticks out and must be dealt with. Utilizing the scaffold to put up a video projector and curtains to divide the gallery for spatial purposes, Chan enthusiastically completed her job of disassembling the hardware of a rotisserie cooker with a menacing pair of pliers in one hand and an electric screwdriver in the other.

When asked about the challenges they faced when melding the mechanical into the classical facets of art, the pair broke into confident smiles. Despite admitting to the difficulties of the harmonization of both ends of the spectrum, Gaytan specified his desire to work with a new software, despite having no knowledge about the functions of programming and graphics. Chan also cited the audacity that one should carry when attempting to delve into the unknown.

Granted the compositions were still in their early stages at that point, the visions that inspired these students seemed to be close at hand. Having experienced a more than satisfactory sample of the soon-to-be exhibition, I can only say I had witnessed just a minute pool of the vast expanse of potential artists from the Claire Trevor School of the Arts at UCI.