It really is an age-old surrealist question: Is an image of something, in essence, that something? What about a digitally reproduced image?
As just one part of An Evening of Arts Technology—a multimedia, multidisciplinary production by University of Utah dance, music, film and art faculty—artist/choreographer Ellen Bromberg’s installation “Odalisque: Ceci n’est pas un nu” tackles that question head on. But in her case the intrigue becomes: Is a projected image of a nude a nude? An arc-less, 10-minute performance piece that repeats over and over for an hour and a half, “Odalisque” is a spin off of sorts on Rene Magritte’s 1929 surrealist painting “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”—a painting of a pipe titled, “This is not a pipe.”
“The work for me is about representation and the gap between language and image,” says Bromberg. “And of course the painting isn’t a pipe, it’s a picture of a pipe. ‘Odalisque’ references a form of painting common around the early 1900s, when a lot of artists were painting nudes reclining on sofas. The subjects of those paintings were often the chambermaids of Turkish Sultans. My piece is about looking at the nature of the female nude body as a projection screen for society and culture. It’s a takeoff of Magritte in that the performer is wearing a unitard and her genitals are projected onto her body. So she isn’t really nude; it’s just a picture of a nude.”
The evening-long, one-night-only exhibition itself is also somewhat the brainchild of Bromberg. As she found herself focusing more and more on the concept of how technology influences various art forms—especially her specialty of modern dance—she realized that these new hybrids do not have a specific venue or forum for exposition.
One immediate problem facing the proposed exhibition was how to define technology, because in a way everything can be classified as such—as Bromberg notes, a paintbrush is technology of a sort. Where she and collaborators decided to draw the line is that the artwork had to have some sort of digital component either in the process of creation or in the final presentation. Consisting of such varied mediums as installations, performances and sculpture, there will also be some more traditional works (prints and design pieces) juxtaposing the more experimental works on display.
Like S. Clay Furches and Kaiti Slater’s “China”—a video projection that focuses upon two distinctly modern, human points outlined by the pair of artists in their statement: “One, that there is a shared humanity among peoples and cultures and two, that we are affected more than ever by events that take place on the opposite side of the world.” The installation plays with the illusion of space so that when a participant looks into a cylinder form, it is as though they are looking through a vast three-dimensional tunnel burrowing deep into the earth. According to the artists, the illusion should “reinforce your relationship to the perceived activity at the opposite end.”
As with Furches and Slater, other contributing artists—like Paul Stout, who utilizes the likes of “flowers, road kill pigeons, old clock parts, counting devices and programmed computer chips, and butterflies” in his dioramas—find that an exploration of the intersection of technology and art speaks to an ever-increasing polemic of natural versus mechanistic. Although it may be as such for Bromberg too, the incorporation of technology most importantly adds a new degree of freedom to the proscenium-regulated dance world most familiar to her.
“I just became really interested in interactive technology and the way technology allows us to extend our senses and our kinesthetic awareness, changing the paradigm of performance,” says Bromberg. While she notes that she retains the utmost respect for traditional dance forms, “the proscenium frame structures time, space and experience in predictable ways. … I’ve become more interested in the frame of the screen and the installation environment where time seems much more fluid.”
That idea of throwing all expectations out the window seems to be a particularly strong guiding point for many of the pieces included in the exhibition. In composer Miguel Chuaqui’s experimental collaboration with Bromberg, for example, dancers do not move to composed music, but rather the improvised movements of the dancers will—through motion sensors—create the score they in turn move to. Autocatalytic, indeed.
And so the questions continue. Is a random computer-driven musical composition still a composition? Is a clothed body that appears to be nude a nude? Is a digitally reproduced pipe a pipe? Is an image of something, in essence, that something? And, pray tell, how many road-kill pigeons does a diorama make?
AN EVENING OF ARTS TECHNOLOGY New Media Wing of the Art and Architecture Building (formerly the Museum of Fine Arts), Thursday, April 21, 7 p.m. Map: www.finearts.utah.edu/EA