Now in its fourth year, Northern Lights.mn's Art(ists) on the Verge mentorshop program recently showcased its latest group of fellows experimenting with art, technology, and interactive and participatory art-making practices. The emerging artists -- Chris Houltberg, Sarah Julson, Mad King Thomas Collective, Asia Ward, and Anthony Warnick -- are currently exhibiting their work at the Soap Factory.
Work by Sarah Julson
Photo by Tim Carroll
As in past years, artists varied greatly in terms of where their greatest experimentations took place. While some offered work that pushed boundaries of how participatory their art could be, others explored ways that they could re-invent their artistic discipline within the context of technology and digital culture.
For example, Mad King Thomas Collective -- who are known for their over the top choreographic pieces involving elaborate, campy costumes, (sometimes) nudity, and other highly theatrical elements -- have taken a completely different direction in their work for this project. The trio has created two pieces. In the first, they provide a phone number to call and leave a message, saying they will call you back with a personalized dance. The other piece invites people to walk up to a lit stage and make a phone call. The participant's body onstage, and their interaction with the person they are talking to, becomes the dance itself.
It may not be as entertaining as what audiences expect from Mad King Thomas, but it certainly provides a more reflective experience. The collective asks us to consider the performativity of our daily interactions, and creates a very personal experience for the audience.
Anthony Warnick's library piece is also highly interactive, and just as Mad King Thomas forces us to look at dance in a new way, Warnick invites us to think of the idea of a library in a different way than perhaps we're used to.
In Warnick's library, he's created different categories of the way we think about books, taking cues from resources available online. For instance, some of the works are translated into another language and then translated back into English, while others consist of data like how many times the text uses a particular word. At Friday's opening, attendees were invited to sign up for a library card and choose a book with the help of a librarian. While they weren't able to check out books for loan, they were told that at the conclusion of the exhibit they'd be able to keep the book permanently.
Through his work, Warnick asks us to think about our relationship with books, and with reading in general, in the digital age. Classical literature isn't just the plot and the author's message, but a whole set of meanings that are important in different contexts. And while his "books" are humorous and even absurd, they offer an opportunity to question how our experience of reading has completely transformed since the age of the internet.
Similarly, Chris Houltberg examines our relationship with the digital world through a piece that looks at how much the internet creates personal experiences for its users. By leading visitors through a personality test, Houltberg creates an individualized piece for each guest that goes through the installation, questioning how much corporations "know" about our personal lives.
Asia Ward's piece was the least "technological," and also not as obviously interactive as some of the other pieces. That's not to say it wasn't interactive at all. A sculptural installation, her piece requires participants to walk through stalactite-like forms made of plastic that seem to grow and glow in the Soap's scary basement. In some ways, it actually was more engaging than the other artworks in that it caused a visceral reaction. Ward successfully created a kind of alternate word -- almost out of science fiction -- and her use of lights that respond to motion only add to the mood.
Julson's was probably the least accessible work, and wasn't aided by the commotion of the large crowd on opening night. In some ways, her installation could be likened to that of Mad King Thomas's in that it framed things that seemed mundane as works of art (a door, a circular fence). It's a delicate balance to create something that offers food for thought while also being engaging and provoking curiosity (like Ward's piece). Sometimes, it's the simplest pieces that work the best.