Monday, October 8, 2007

Feeling all floaty

A number of people think of art as paintings of flowers and fruit, maybe the occasional statue of a guy on a horse. In this (caricatured) viewpoint, art is a boring waste of time because someone did it better 400 years ago.

Then there's the tabloid view of contemporary art: drip paintings made with menstrual blood, formaldehyded dead animals (an actual element in Damien Hirst's work). In this light new art can be seen as a repugnant waste of money, because there's no effort. Or at least no effort at beauty.

But interaction with actual new art can wipe away both of these stereotypes. Artists follow their own agendas, which sometimes involves material that people find offensive. And sometimes the artist knows how to exploit the controversy. But offending or baffling the viewer isn't the sole point of artistic creation.

"Jukai", Yumi Kori's installation at Brown's David Winton Bell Gallery, is an effective new work. The elements are very simple. You walk into a room on a wooden platform. There are balloons on the floor, suspended from the ceiling, piled on top of each other all around. Jungle-type environmental noise is piped into the space. A little light is provided by blue LED lamps, turned very low.

Repeat that part. "A little light." Otherwise, the room is something like pitch black. So dark that a student docent will give you a small flashlight to guide your way. But while the penlight will help you see where you're going, it certainly won't illuminate the whole room. And walking into a dark room, filled with vague shapes, while strange noises play triggers a kind of fear response.

This lessens over time, and of course your eyes also adjust to the darkness. But the normalization never becomes total, like in your room at night. The recorded noises mix with sounds that wander in somehow, creating a weird effect. There's a kind of heightened awareness accompanying the decreased sensation.

I found some of that effect lingering after I left, which may have been intended. Whatever this show is, it's not pointless.

Oh, and it's free, if you'll be anywhere near Providence in the next couple of weeks.

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