July 24, 2008

Wood Street Galleries’ Exhibit Takes Viewers ‘Out of This World’

By Kurt Shaw, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Jul. 24--With solar systems you can command with the movement of your hands, vortexes opening up for your supposed time travel, and a launch pad being readied according to instructions in Klingon, the latest exhibit to hit The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's Wood Street Galleries, Downtown, is "Out of This World."

The exhibition was inspired by Montreal-based multimedia artist and programmer Jean-Pierre Aube's "Titan and Beyond the Infinite," a two-and-a-half-minute split-screen film based on data gathered by the European Space Agency during the Huygens Probe journey to Titan, one of Saturn's moons.

In it, the screen is divided by a horizontal line of infinity, out from which emanates imagery that is based on literal transcriptions of sequential information from the historic, though brief, moment in the conquest of space.

Wood Street Galleries curator Murray Horne first saw the piece two years ago in Montreal. "It makes you feel like you are flying through space," Horne says of the film. "Basically, it took me just over two years to find artists who were doing work that was related to that theme."

For the creation of "Titan," Aube says, "I started by programming software which organizes the data and arranges them in charts. The title is a direct reference to a '2001: Space Odyssey' scene -- Jupiter, and Beyond the Infinite, also known as the Stargate Sequence."

The scene was created by Douglas Trumbull, who, at the time, was a graphic artist for NASA. He adapted for cinema a technique named slit-scan. Using long exposure time along with camera movement, the technique creates the illusion of movement.

"In my video, the Huygens data are parsed in a database and then organized into graphics," Aube says. "The data, like the altitude and the speed of Huygens, or the density of the atmosphere of Titan, are analyzed by my software, creating images using the slit-scan technique."

Since 2000, Aube also has worked on capturing the sounds of the aurora borealis through the use of very low-frequency receivers. Thus, also in the gallery, visitors will find "VLF Natural Radio," a project presented as a flat-screen video work that combines related audio with an intensely colored animation of landscape representing the Northern Lights.

"VLF frequencies are almost unclouded by man-made telecommunications transmissions," Aube says. "But, as the digital and wireless technologies evolve, the use of these frequencies for communications is overriding the naturally produced waves of the Northern Lights and other climate-related signals. For example, Russian nuclear submarines and American military beacons use VLF frequencies to communicate. These man-made signals override the natural phenomena active on the low-frequency spectrum. Eventually, VLF waves will be completely drowned out by the signals of various telecommunication systems."

Also in this show, German artists Vera-Maria Glahn and Marcus Wendt present their interactive video installation, "The Orbiter." Taking possession of all senses, "The Orbiter" is a place for visitors to lie down and relax, watching the projection above them. With a small gesture, just pointing upward, the visitor can insert new stars into orbit with unique visual and musical characteristics. Thus, the dream of reaching for the stars, which is as old as mankind itself, becomes as close as your hand.

American artist Gail Wight shows photographs of smashed test tubes that, reassembled into astral-like compositions of their own, look like little solar systems. But most interesting and surprisingly humorous is Maria Antelman's compellingly unusual video called "taH pagh taHbe." In it, images of a vast, unused NASA hangar flash before the viewer's eyes. But the soundtrack is Hamlet's famous soliloquy translated into the guttural sci-fi language of Klingon from the TV series "Star Trek."

Antelman was born in Athens and studied art history in Madrid. She is the creator and publisher of "ozon" magazine, published in Athens, and has collaborated as an assistant curator at the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens.

Since September 2001, she has lived in San Francisco and New York City, making her disparate socio-visual piece a delightful outsider's take on American popular culture, not to mention an interesting look into American space travel: Are we cowboys seeking answers in cryogenetics, bodybuilders straddling between scientific experiments and para-psychological phenomena, or revolutionary re-enactors receiving messages from extraterrestrials and aviators searching for parallel universes?

Her interest originates in the motives, fears and desires that underlie life as we know it.


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