Visual Arts Review: Late Night Art
October 17, 2013
Interactive art can sound intimidating to the uninitiated – its spectre raising the silent, panicky cry of “What if I don’t want to interact?!” So how refreshing that Auckland Art Week managed to schedule three separate digital-interactive art installations in the central city for its Late Night Art event, in amongst the safer wares of open-late galleries and ‘Art of Dining’ fast-food trucks. Could it be that we’re getting used to the idea of jumping feet-first into strange encounters with live art?
Francis Griffiths-Keam’s work Parity appeared at the Audio Foundation, behind Karangahape Rd. Parity offers its participants a one-on-one interaction (via an array of tracking equipment) with a constructed, invisible aural environment: you don a pair of headphones then physically explore the virtual terrain, being rewarded for your speculative movements by a soundtrack unfolding in your ears and visuals unfolding in parallel on a monitor a few feet away. Ambient synth chords, water, chattering voices and occasional deafening static fluctuate, erupt and return to silence as this dynamic live composition unfolds between human player and virtual Parity soundspace. It’s a private encounter, but amused onlookers can witness, in your awkward lurchings or graceful body play and in the advance of abstract patterns across the monitor, something of the journey you’re having. And as players pass the headphones and reflect and chat it becomes a collective endeavor to grasp the nature of this interactive environment – and how best to move within it to get the soundtrack you want.
Seung Yul Oh and Jeffrey Nusz’s Rain, installed at the Aotea Centre, comprises a large grey oval landscape – water below, cloudy sky above – on a screen and, before it, two long tables studded with arcade buttons, inviting participation. After the raw, exposed, leads-hanging-out electro-digi world of Parity, in Rain the technical connections are seamlessly concealed, and the technique of interaction appears basic. As buttons are punched furiously by one or multiple players, cutesie-pie anime-style objects – green origami cranes, yellow ducklings, lilac elephants, black logs, bright alphabet letters, flaming tropical birds! – sprout up on the pond, rain down from the sky or fly horizontally across the screen, hitting the water with ripples and splashes. The harmless-chaos visuals are echoed in a chiming rainstormy soundtrack. Yet these elements compose themselves in a peaceful rhythm not at all in keeping with the players’ spacies-era vigour. So for participants this interactive artwork is another intriguing dance of uncertainty as we seek the link between our button-pushes and the novelties emerging on-screen; yet for spectators the emergent animation with its jumbling creature carnival is a mesmerizing joy to behold.
SCOUT (Sentient Co-relator Of Urban Transaction), Tim Gruchy’s permanent installation at Britomart’s grassy Takutai Square, is a rectangular monolith reflecting the clean brutalist forms of the surrounding high-rises. But SCOUT ‘lives’, having an inbuilt sensory-response system and a screen occupying one of ‘her’ faces, enabling her to interact with her environment. For Late Night Art, Gruchy and James Pinker – composers of SCOUT’s real-time soundtrack – appeared in DJ guise to recompose that soundtrack in a live collaboration with SCOUT. Via hand and arm gestures and environmental sound inputs, they triggered, moulded and mixed SCOUT’s repertoire of sound and image components, adding beats and found samples into their futuristic soundscape for this well-attended grande finale of Late Night Art. Bold spectators occasionally approached and touched SCOUT’s colourful swirling screen, and beneath their hands glowing fireballs sprang into being, meandered around and floated skywards, lending a sublime, phoenix-from-the-ashes air to SCOUT’s demeanour.
Together these three open-ended and whimsical digital artworks delivered a live, atmospheric experience worthy of the Late Night Art promise. Each interrogated the complex borderlines between vision and sound, spectation and participation, control and surrender – and none were guilty of that interactive art no-no, coercion. Instead, amidst the over-stimulated dullness of central city buzz their theatres of slowed-down immersive interactivity became small oases of challenge, contemplation and sensory revival.