Reviewing Eric Singer's mechanized visitors from the near future. | Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Reviewing Eric Singer's mechanized visitors from the near future.

If there's a People's Choice Award for nerdy art gizmos, Singer is a serious contender.

click to enlarge Eric Singer's "Guitarbot II."
Eric Singer's "Guitarbot II."
The ongoing joke is that history is cruel to futurists. Fifty years ago, science-fiction authors anticipated android butlers and self-driving cars. Instead, we have iPads and global hunger. You win some, you lose some, but nobody vacations on Mars. 

Eric Singer casts himself a futurist, but really he's an artist who likes to play with machines. His latest exhibit is Living in the Future, a "protospective" of different installations, all incorporating some kind of kooky contraption. Future includes the latest in a series of medium-tech sculptures appearing around town this year, by various artists in various venues. But Singer's are by far the most fun. If there's a People's Choice Award for nerdy art gizmos, Singer is a serious contender. 

The running gag is that all his machines come from the near future, such as "Chime-a-tron," which will allegedly be invented in 2014. This is just a row of tiny tubular chimes, and when you tap them or clink them together, they make an unexpected sound. Suffice it to say it's the last sound you'd expect. 

Each piece has its own plaque, and each plaque offers a date of conception and some screwball description. These blurbs have the absurd, subversive tone of a Douglas Adams novel. The "Chime-a-tron" text reads: "If you don't know how to play this thing, you are lame." 

If Singer could do it all over, he might pick a different theme than "the future." After all, each machine fiddles with sound, and our auditory expectations are always dashed. Even the Slinky that dangles from the ceiling makes a strange (and fiercely loud) noise when pulled, and this irony is furthered by the text: "Pull. Boing-oing-oing-oing-oing. Sounds like it looks." Well, sort of. The title of this piece is, of course, "Slink-a-tron," to be invented in 2016. 

But Singer himself is the exhibit's star, he can pick whatever theme he likes. His most ambitious project is "LEMURtron" (2020), a separate room that looks like a cross between a discotheque and a torture chamber. When you walk on the padded floor, a group of steampunk instruments starts to play discordant music -- and like most of Future's pieces, the music changes according to your movement. Singer works hard to make visitors feel involved. The future, he suggests, is also ours. 


LIVING IN THE FUTURE continues through June 26. SPACE Gallery, 812 Liberty Ave., Downtown. 412-325-7723 or

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