Interactive exhibit Invisible Man skews reality into personalized art | Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Interactive exhibit Invisible Man skews reality into personalized art

click to enlarge CP PHOTO: HANNAH LYNN
CP photo: Hannah Lynn
The title of the new exhibit at Wood Street Galleries, Invisible Man, is a bit of a misnomer. It's full of interactive, moving pieces that don't exactly make viewers invisible, but visible in different and more dynamic ways.

The first work you see when entering is the exhibit’s key piece, appearing on its pamphlets and posters. "Portrait on the Fly," by Laurent Mignonneau and Christa Sommerer is a mesmerizing and unsettling work that captures a fleeting portrait of passersby. Viewers can stand in front of a screen that then reflects an outline of their image back at them, only it’s made out of hundreds of swarming flies. The flies come together as one to make a person, disperse, and then come together again. The flies are tiny, numerous, and feel eerie. But just as quickly as a portrait appears, it disappears.

A similarly ephemeral portrait is made with "Autoportrait" by German collective Robotlab. The piece features a large, whirring, orange robot placed in front of an easel. If someone sits on a stool in front of the robot, it will take their picture, and then slowly and carefully draw a crude portrait on a whiteboard. The piece and the robot are from 2002, practically ancient in AI years, and consequently, the portrait feels like a cave painting. But it also feels like a prediction of the future when mall and street portrait painters will be replaced by robots. After it’s done, the robot erases the portrait, and as the description of the piece states, “callously the machine leaves no remembrance of the person who sat vis-a-vis and who now must attend the erasure of the image.”


Like "Autoportrait," the automated piece "AL" by UVA (United Visual Artists), is a machine set off by motion. When someone walks by, a small contraption that looks something like a letterpress prints a simple message on a square piece of paper, to either be picked up or to fall to the floor. The phrases are like uncanny fortune cookies — almost but not quite wisdom. I got one that said, “A woman’s place is in the rain.” Among the pile on the floor were ones that read “All work is next to godliness”; “A good man is harder to deprive”; “Good things come to the other.” The writing is meticulous enough to look like it’s been typed, but the machine actually writes with a ballpoint pen. 
click to enlarge CP PHOTO: HANNAH LYNN
CP photo: Hannah Lynn

One of the only site-specific pieces in the exhibit, "Invisible Generation" by Pascal Dombis, is also the largest, featuring a floor-to-ceiling print made up of 30,000 images sourced from Google, found by repeatedly searching a set of keywords. The images, which include memes, magazine covers, politicians, logos, and more, are designed to mimic interlaced video, making it hard to see the images with perfect clarity. There are pieces of plastic viewers can hold up to the work to better see the images, or further distort them. Staring at it from afar and up close with the plastic, the work is a display of just how vast the internet is, and how much of it we’ve all consumed. There are more images in this piece than any one person can see, but they also represent a tiny fraction of the images floating around on the internet.

Dombis also has another piece in the exhibit, "Post-Digital Mirror," a mirror-like series of metal sheets that don’t actually reflect images but instead shift light and shadow around.

The interaction continues throughout the exhibit. Jacob Kirkegaard’s "Eustachia for 18 Ears" is a spooky and immersive sonic piece that captures faint, high-pitched sounds made by the cochlea in some peoples’ ears. Kirkegaard recorded and amplified the sounds inside a maze of curtains and red lights. Wandering through, the noise gets louder, softer, more high-pitched as you walk through the curtains. It feels Lynchian or like you are actually wandering around inside an ear.

The exhibit also features "Disabled Chair," an in-motion piece that compares the stature between an office chair and a wheelchair, two objects that are technically similar but serve very different functions and are perceived differently. The office chair moves around the wheelchair, which stays in place (although when I visited, it was under repair and not in motion).


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