Considering the direction David Cronenberg's films have taken lately – dark, moody epics revolving around excellent character acting by a dark, moody Viggo Mortensen – it's always nice to see someone step up to fill the surreal-body-horror niche Cronenberg left behind in his ever-evolving career as a filmmaker. Don't get me wrong, an artist needs to evolve and that evolution will, occasionally, force them to pick up a new instrument while doing variations on the same theme. However, I'm glad someone is there to pick up where Cronenberg left off. And not just pick up, but wholly transcend the medium of fiction.
27-year-old Japanese installation artist I-zawa Mio has plucked Cronenberg's visions of animated mounds of flesh from the screen and plunked them at our feet. Here is, for instance, an iPhone charger that is more than obviously influenced by the game pods in eXistenZ:
The umbilical cord, the inhuman squeaking and frog-leg motions are all there. Plugged into an iPhone, it takes a ubiquitous device and makes it strange. It's plugged in, but why does it look like it's sucking something out? Our relationship with the device and the power supplied to it is completely turned around.
Another project, mechanical tumor is plugged into an open PC case. It grows and shrinks based on the amount of load the processor is undergoing – a figure usually represented by a simply line graph to anyone who cares about this sort of thing. The open case, an environment of wonder and dread for those who do not know their way around a computer's innards, is merged with the disabling horror of an amateur facing an open human body. Mio strips the triteness away from the “we are our machines” meme, converting it from a futurist's fantasy into a double-nightmare where we must simultaneously face our fear of the evolving incomprehensibility of powerful computers and the failures of our own bodies.
I'm not sure how or when I came across [The User]. It may have been during my brief tenure as a Computer Science undergrad at an engineering university. I dove into the world of experimental electronic music head-first and spent most of my free time – and class time, which would explain the briefness of said tenure – alt-tabbing between Soulseek and allmusic. Anyhow, some day or another I discovered [The User], a Montreal-based conceptual art duo who, in 1998, released a project and album entitled Symphony #1 for Dot Matrix Printers. Twelve dot-matrix printers were hooked up to a LAN and “conducted” by a user at a central server. The results are impressive, although more on a conceptual level. Below is an audio excerpt from Symphony #2 from 1999.
Several years later and in a completely unrelated excursion across YouTube, I stumbled across Hungarian composer György Ligeti's 1962 Poème Symphonique for 100 metronomes. The similarity was striking. Again, a series of identical and non-musical tools were set to a specific calibration – different tempos on each metronome this time, rather than a computer program – and left alone to play. This was even less “musical” than [The User]'s work; a rather insightful YouTube commenter (yes that was the sound of Satan plugging in a space heater) mentioned that it is the aural equivalent of a Jackson Pollock painting.
Imagine my surprise when, while researching this post, I found out that one of [The User]'s latest projects was a tribute to 100 metronomes! Entitled Coincidence Engines, it comes in two separate installations. Coincidence Engine One, subtitled “Universal Peoples Republic Time”, uses a “large number” of clocks to create an environment I can only describe as sanity-quelching. It is a walk-in area with a curved wall composed entirely of clock, all beating out the machine equivalent of a caveman drumming. This project goes beyond Ligeti's metronomes, as the clocks are not even pre-set to tick in a certain pattern; everything is left to chance. As an individual who can barely stand to be in a room with more than a single ticking clock, I would probably find the experience harrowing at best.
I am not entirely sure what to make of Coincidence Engine Two, “Approximate demarcator of constellations in other cosmos.” It is more akin to [The User]'s earlier dot matrix work as the clocks are programmed to tick in sequence. I'll let the visual speak for itself:
...and that concludes today's Avant Garde Theater. Stay tuned next week for a man staring listlessly into space for an hour (depending on whether or not the NEA grant comes through.)