Galleries Unite Tech, Feminism and Politics

By Jared Alokozai

Last Saturday, Claire Trevor featured an array of gallery openings diverse enough to sate art-lovers’ appetites until Winter quarter. Two of these exhibitions focused on an artist’s identification with the medium itself: Simon Penny and David Familian’s “Embodied Encounters” explored possibilities for an artfully meditative call-and-response between man and machine, while Maura Brewer’s “Tribute to Jessica Chastain” dealt with the artist’s fascination with the silver screen’s red-headed queen and the ways the actress embodies Hollywood’s fantasies of colonization, Oedipal longing and depressive inertia in her latest blockbuster roles.

Hosted in the Beall Center, the exhibition presented seven contemporary artists whose works negotiate the crumbling Cartesian paradigm that insists bodily experience is completely independent from the mind. Familian, who curated the exhibition, said that “Our brain is not as engaged as we think it is — our body does most of the work that we credit our brain.” Familian and Penny revealed this unifying philosophy they call “embodiment” through subverting our interactions with technology.

George Khut’s “Cardiomorphologies” requires viewers to recline in a lawnchair as biosensors transform involuntary body functions like pulse and breath into kaleidoscopic concentric circles projected on a wall. Your body’s unique cadence becomes visual, artful information in real time. “Time Lenses,” an installation by Sha Xin Wei, Todd Ingalls, and Julian Stein, projects livestreamed footage of exhibition attendees on to five suspended segments of white cloth. Cameras capture gallery-goers in lagging, grainy grayscale, the screens like mirrors to a monochromatic world that runs in freeze-frames. Viewers are forced to stand still and keep their movements minimal to appreciate themselves in full effect.

U.K. artist Alex May’s “Shadows of Light” demands a similar sort of disruptive, static restraint but this time in technicolor. A modified Microsoft Kinect motion-sensing camera renders spectators as silhouettes of dripping, prismatic paint on an arrestingly large LCD screen. The longer the subject holds a pose, the crisper and more vibrant their stenciled digital body appears.

“A lot of interactive art is instantly reactive, so you have this very basic call and response interaction,” said May. But “Shadows of Light” implores viewers to slow down. “It’s only the act of standing still and observing that brings out the full interaction. It rewards you for spending time with it,” said May, subverting our expected reward circuitry that favors hyperfast, slick user interfaces. A trained software engineer, May works to democratize this sort of subversive digital art by creating a free, open-source visual art platform called Fugio, which grants those of us with little coding experience opportunities to create and manipulate digital spaces.

In the adjacent University Art Gallery, conceptual artist Maura Brewer’s “Tribute to Jessica Chastain” scrutinizes a different sort of virtual space: that of the Hollywood film. Three looping films depict Brewer’s heady analyses of Chastain’s performance in three movies: “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Interstellar,” and “The Martian.” With a post-feminist eye, Brewer splices and rearranges scenes from the leading lady’s roles and overlays text, voiceovers, and graphics to connect dots and prove her thesis: despite Chastain’s characters’ agency, financial autonomy and status as a pop-feminist icon, she remains subject to pressures from patriarchal institutions and the whims of the male leads opposite her. “I was interested in having a contemporary conversation about feminism in which there’s a recognition that though women — specifically white American women — have access to agency, it is always circumscribed by larger systems, larger institutions… Jessica Chastain’s recurring roles are parables of this,” said Brewer.

Part YouTube conspiracy theory video, part high-level film analysis, the videos narrate threads of sound logic that come together to depict Chastain as playing essentially the same role as vessel for Hollywood’s fantasies: of satisfying fictive linearity despite growing real-world uncertainty in “Zero Dark Thirty,” of subservience to the institution and its male avatar (Matt Damon) in “The Martian,” and of codependent Oedipal desire for her father (Matthew McConaughey) in “Interstellar.”

These exhibitions shine a light on the materiality of our world, from our interactions with emerging technologies to our deep identification with cultural heroes. Should this sort of deconstructive thinking appeal to you, the exhibits will remain open until winter.