Seung Ah Lee and Joe Stevens, APT Gallery

19 – 29 July, 2007

Seung Ah Lee at APT Gallery

APT Gallery, Deptford

Seung Ah is a friend from Goldsmiths, who completes her MA in Interactive Media this year. She is currently showing with fellow student Joe Stevens at the APT Gallery in Deptford, which is not too far away from where I live. It was a beautiful, warm evening last night so I walked down to see them at the opening.

Seung Ah Lee and Joe Stevens at APT Gallery

As an introduction there was this text on the floor which I’ll quote here in full:

The event horizon is the edge of the black hole, the boundary of the area from which it is impossible to exit. In the centre of the hole is a singularity, a place in which distortion is infinite.

aRTifacts aT tHe eVent hoRizon aims to present interaction between users and play with the controlling affects placed upon the user’s acknowledgement of technology such as computer terminals, cameras and sensors.

Cyberspace is electronic space, composed of computer networks like the internet . . . The mass and energy of cyberspace compresses the Earth to a black hole with an event horizon located at a near-zero distance from the users connected to it.

Lee uses technology as a metaphor for the event horizon in order to reinterpret the real world as digital information. There is a parallel nature to the work which explores the ambiguous space of the event horizon and the multi-ambivalence of cyberspace. This uncertainty acts as a rhizome, as defined by Deleuze and Guattari, through the random nature of the interactions.

OK, well there’s a lot in that short text, and I’ll only be able to touch the depths it plumbs here. To begin with I’ll simply describe the works as I experienced them and raise some questions I had arising from them.

Seung Ah Lee

In the front room of the gallery there were two pieces by Seung Ah, one which took your picture when you stood on special pads and added it to a mosaic of portraits on the monitor nearby, the other which had a series of five wall-mounted panels incorporating small microphones. When you blew onto these panels the sound was routed through a synthesizer, converting the sound, with melodic and musical, or harsh and dissonant results, depending on which panel you blew. Above each panel was the outline drawing of a head and the lines used in this drawing extended across the wall to a set of speakers around the corner, from which you could perhaps make a connection between the sounds emanating from the speakers and the likenesses on the wall.

Seung Ah Lee

Seung Ah Lee

Beyond this space you encountered Joe Stevens performing in a taped off square area on the floor. When I first entered the gallery this space held a complete jigsaw, but with no image showing, so perhaps this was its reverse? Later on someone had knocked part of the completed jigsaw, at which point the artist collected all the pieces together in a bag, sat down in the square and began drawing pieces out of the bag and laying them out on the floor.

Joe Stevens performance

There seemed to be little reason behind the placement of the pieces – he started in the middle of the square and progressed methodically out to his right, moving across the area and eventually out of the square. The arrangement of individual pieces seemed to be similar to the way dominos are arranged – they weren’t connected like jigsaw pieces, just laid next to each other. There was no indication what the reasoning behind this piece was.

Once I’d stepped past this performance, I pushed through a black curtain into the darkened rear space. Here plastic capes were laid in front of the audience which we were encouraged to don. They held a grid of nine clear plastic domes, some with a fluorescent green layer inside, others with a variety of electronic modules. These included sensors which detected the presence of others around you, emitting a distinctive warble when you got close to someone else. Relating to this, the measured distance between participants was continuously calculated and displayed on a projection on the wall, overlaying static photographs of city scenes.

In the room there was also a grid of pressure sensors on the floor which allowed you to adjust the output of another digital projection next to the first on the wall. In this case, each sensor triggered small animations of a person going in and out of focus. Their appearance on the screen seemed to follow the grid on the floor. At certain points this projection cleared and the words “A connection has been made” (if I remember correctly) were displayed, but it was difficult to work out what conditions had to be met to make this appear, or how to make it return to the animations.

Seung Ah Lee

Seung Ah Lee

Seung Ah Lee

As with the panels in the first room, each pressure sensor was connected to drawings on the walls by thin threads.

Seung Ah Lee

I think this piece shows the good and bad side of interactive artworks. On the one hand it’s fun trying to work out what all the elements of the installations did, and how they worked together. But if this process takes too long it just gets frustrating. I think visitors to galleries usually have a much shorter attention span than is necessary to fully appreciate this kind of work. Or maybe playing with the pieces during an opening works against the concentration required to understand them.

That said, for me, the piece in the darkened room was the most satisfying and I think this was because of the element of audience interaction that was missing from the other pieces.

The first pieces allowed you to work with the technology, but didn’t put you in a position of having to deal with other people through that technology, whereas the last piece positively encouraged interaction through the wearable systems. These modified your body to suggest the option of creating a connection between you and the other wearers of the capes, however simple that might have been in this case. I’m not sure what the reality of the technological connection was, as it was difficult to work out who was in control of the sounds and changes to the projections, but the idea was clear and encouraged you to play around trying to understand the systems the artist had put in place.

I think this is what the artists are suggesting when they say the show “aims to present interaction between users and play with the controlling affects placed upon the user’s acknowledgement of technology.” The other pieces also met this criteria – the technology was for the most part presented as part of the piece, not hidden away.

However, one reversal of this proposition was that the functional wiring was for the most part taped down and hidden. Taking it’s place were the drawings of lines connecting the various elements of the systems, between the heads on the wall and the speakers in the first room, between the grid of pressure sensors and the silhouettes of bodies in the darkened room. There seemed to be a deliberate shifting of meaning away from the technology and onto a representational “space” where flows of energy or communication were suggested where they didn’t exist and hidden where they did.

I actually found the show very interesting precisely because of this strangeness in the way it dealt with it’s material, and for the questions it raised about technological systems and our physical and mental relations to them. The statement plainly says that “Lee uses technology as a metaphor for the event horizon . . .” By doing so I think she successfully actualises the activity of interaction as a productive source of meaning, however I have yet to get my head around the astrophysical aspects of this show.

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Seung Ah Lee and Joe Stevens, APT Gallery by escdotdot is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International