Once again, the Soap Factory has brought back its innovative "Art(ists) on the Verge" exhibition, featuring a group of talents exploring the intersections between art and technology through work that is highly interactive. It's kind of like a mini Northern Spark (the program is co-presented by Northern Lights, which produces the annual Northern Spark Festival) in the way that the work encourages visitors to engage with the artwork. But instead of just one night, you have until April 20 to check it out.
The exhibition tops off a yearlong residency program co-directed by Northern Lights' Steve Dietz and MCAD professor Piotr Szyhalski. The participating artists, including Katie Hargrave, Alison Hiltner, Aaron Marx, Peter Sowinski, and Emily Stover, worked with the directors along with a swath of visiting artists such as Ta-Coumba Aiken, Christine Baeumler, Chris Larson, Abinadi Meza, Sarah Peters, and Diane Willow as they developed their ideas.
Like Northern Spark, there's more than one way to experience the exhibition, depending on your comfort level and willingness to engage with the work. For the most part, for people who don't necessarily feel the need to "try out" the interactive elements, the pieces can be enjoyed from a distance. One example is Allison Hiltner's luminous plant creations that hover on the ceiling, their roots flowing down to the floor. These "living" beings draw you in right away, even if you don't get close enough to interact with the animatronic root systems that vibrate in response to movement. Aaron Marx's wooden starscape also offers an interactive experience, without too much investment on the part of the viewer, as you wander into the play of shadow and light.
For some of the pieces, you have to have a higher level of engagement to experience the work fully. For example, Peter Sowinski's piece doesn't really work unless you take one or more of the wooden blocks from the shelf and place it on the table. Sowinski's machine then "interprets" the configuration and responds by presenting a short video that indirectly relates to the objects you selected. It's actually quite exciting waiting for the video screen to go from scrambled to clear, offering a call-and-response scenario through visual communication.
Emily Stover's piece introduces a fairly complicated set-up in terms of your role in it, although you can also experience it more passively by simply admiring the stark gray coats she has hung up on the wall and the mini post office she's got set up. You can also trying them on, and even write a postcard to be inserted in the mail slot. Created as a kind of homage to the idea of snail mail in the age of the internet, Stover's work, like Sowinski's, looks back on old technology even while using 21st century technology to do so.
Perhaps the most heady work comes from Katie Hargrave, who takes as her subject the history of sugar production and its complicated relationship with labor and the environment. You might not get all of that by going through the exhibit, although you can hear her talk about it on a podcast provided by the Soap Factory on its website. Hargrave's section features some really neat records made of sugar, as well as some other multimedia elements.
Ultimately this is an exhibit that asks a little bit more from you than to simply observe from a distance. While you can do that and still have an effective experience, you're probably going to enjoy the work better if you take a chance interacting with the artwork.
"Art(ists) on the Verge"
Thursdays through Sundays through April 20
There will be artists' talks April 12 and 19.