- Published in Realtime Magazine. )
The back wall is filled by a projection of a video game, emitted from ta tartan shopping jeep. This piece, snake the planet! has the studied informality of a Graffiti Research Labs Project, complete with title in the rousing imperative. The casual flavour is more potent for the background of its creators: Creators Lukasz Karluk, Rene Christen and Nick Clark have, between them, worked in enough high-budget commercial interactives that it is clear they could have opted for a more seamless and slick surface. But for now they are all about insinuating themselves into the crevices.
The game is a homespun version of the arcade classic Snake, whose pixellated arena weirdly traces the shapes of the wall itself. Documentation shows the jeep touring in the company of a ragged sofa and assorted living room furnishings down back alleys and culs-de-sac, resting, it seems, in this most back-alley of galleries before the tour continues. It’s the enactment of an anecdote from Jane Jacobs or David Harvey on the multiple uses of the sidewalk, but here we’re meshing those earlier democratic urban visions with the arcade games of the creator’s childhood milieux. Or, if you like, claiming that earlier politics for the armchair video game generation questions the idea of such games as a cause of urban alienation, countering with an 8-bit social urbanist manifesto for the next wave of space invaders.
Tracing a different history is George Khut’s piece, Distillery II. Khut’s oeuvre sketches in miniature the evolution of computing machinery, from primordial campus behemoths to the portable experience of modern ubiquitous computing.
The core theme throughout is biofeedback. Your physiological signals are translated into minimal, asymmetric rings of brightness on the iPad display, the unconscious processes of life made explicit and external. The hook is the visceral way that you have to buy in to the work to experience it. If you have taken the time use the machine’s help to change your very heart rate, then it is a contradiction to claim being unaffected.
As raw as this avowedly prototype piece is, it is more polished that its progenitor works, say, the 2007 work Cardiomorphologies v2. That piece, retrofuturist reclining couch, recalled ancient room-filling supercomputers. But this iteration, given the tenor of the moment, is necessarily on iPad app. Your heart-rate is measured by a slimline slip-on ear-ring, the visualisations on a solipsistically personal screen.
One day, Khut explains, this experience could be in sundry app stores; he just needs to work out how to get decent biometric data in to the phone. And with that, it looks different to me: less a feature on the underground terrain of new media art, than a niche consumer item on the mainstream landscape: a takeaway meditation aid for the modern yogi-on-the-go.
This is not to dismiss it for mass-marketability - the opposite, really. Distillery II is elegant, more minutely worked than the typical eye-candy on your smartphone app-store of choice. The distinctive lines of the portable Apple fetish item do invite us to consider the relationship to Angry birds and the virally unsociable fruit of this decade’s commuting habits. There is nothing wrong with exhibition as focus group, although I think the exhibition opens me to the work that would be invisible on an app-store promotion page - it’s the physical presence of the artist as he greets me that tells me to set that time aside.
The show is not all software, by any means. Hands cupped at the other end of the industrial metabolism, Peter Blamey has made another RF-interference sound work from what he could catch - a new copper wire and discarded circuit-board sound installation. And, conspicuously handcrafted, Paul Greedy shines for minimalism in form and function. Untitled (Air 1) is made of heating coils couched austerely in lengths of glass piping. They sing in turn, with heat-induced resonance, driven by a tiny Arduino. If he wanted to make the contrast with the more computer-heavy works complete, he could have discarded the few integrated circuits entirely for pre-transistor relays.
Instead, the prize for simplicity (there are prizes for this, right?) goes to CJ Conway, even as the literal way that she brings people together has her in with a chance for the community-space awards as well. Her i am so into you is a monochrome inflorescence, a design sketched in graphite onto the bare gallery wall, cleft in the middle for a naked incandescent bulb. That bulb glows when you touch both sides of the shape at once, closing the circuit. The next question, of course, is can you and another person each touch one side of the work and still light the bulb? Curator Pia and I stand with our palms to the wall to find out. But the bloody thing won’t activate for a fingertip touch; we have to interlock fingers.
CJ Conway, George Poonkhin Khut, Peter Blamey, Paul Greedy, MPU (Mobile Projection Unit): Lukasz Karluk, Rene Christen, Nick Clark
SERIAL SPACE - 33 Wellington St, Chippendale, www.serialspace.org
Opening: 18:00-20:00 Tues 6th March Open: 12:00-18:00 7th - 11th March