The Living Thing / Notebooks :

Dorkbot group show 2011

Have you been to Serial Space? It’s some 80s Polish scifi film-set of a gallery, I swear, all smears and patina. You can’t go wrong exhibiting there, not for shows that have the hybrid robustness to survive outside the sterile white box.

My pick:

Ross Manning’s installations are the follies of a Questacon interactive designer in a meth comedown, scratchy broken assemblages of wire and household matériel, designed to inform the youth of some educational message lost in a haze of tweaky atavism. This time he has wrapped a blank computer monitor with polarized film to viscerally compelling result called Trapped Universe. Currents of iridescence surge down bas-relief contours of distressed plastic, hidden worlds spilling out from between the pixels.

You remember this from Questacon[#]_, yes? Some improving exhibit about the effect of polarising filters upon light? The rainbows that come and go with the twist of a lense? The whole show is strewn along this line in spectacle space between high school science fair and Carnival of Souls, of industrial detritus pressed parody of science education.

[1]For my non-Australian readers - Questacon is one of those children’s science-education museums.

A generation has passed since red-bloodied school children tried to build lasers in the shed to vaporise the Soviet threat, and kept books called 101 Science Projects, and the cold war curriculum die-casting ICBM engineers has long since switched to stock brokers.

Now these technomads colonise the abandoned space, gleaners from the techno-industrial dump. Where once the science museum exhibits served to inculcate fluency in the physical universals that would feed the western ascendancy in the wars, these odd scraps lifted from the military industrial dumpster after lights-out, these are anything but universal; personal, oddball, unique, serendipitous.

Ross’s work is near-unphotographable, rooted in the resolution of the retina and the foibles of binocular vision. Through my camera’s glassy eye it is insentient obsolescent hardware on the way to its fate in a scuffed plastic slip cover. A refutation the instant mediated locality of the digital with embodied, hi-resolution lo-fi.

Luke Pasquale Calarco’s Human Theremin compounds the insulting invisibility of sound art with the injurious transience of performance. His comically unwieldy backback theremin, bulging to rupture with speaker boxes and electronic project kits and coathanger wire turns him, and whomever he touches, into the antenna of a giant theremin, to the sound of a gritty warbling squeal from that iconic by-product of cold-war electronics. Within moments of his turning the device on, and stumping over his umbilical extension cord into the throng, strangers are holding his hand, perturbing his electric field and, well, interfering with one another.

And so on: Michael Petchovsky fishes his components from council hard-rubbish day, Wade Marynowsky has a whole upended electric organ glitching out in the corner. Everywhere you turn, the cut-n-solder techno-collage in the face of the finished, seamless moulded surface of corporate standardisation that the previous generation’s universalism conjured, haruspicy of our from the entrails of felled white goods. With a sausage sizzle on the last day.

Further reading

  1. Dorkbot
  2. Serial space
  3. Theremin
  4. American Physics and the Cold War bubble, by David Kaiser. University of Chicago Press.
  5. Creating the Cold War University, Rebecca S. Lowen. 1997. University of California Press, 1997 ( Amazon )
  6. Owner’s manifesto/maker’s bill of rights

The Sydney Dorkbot group show, Serial Space gallery. 22nd to 27th February 2011. Curator: Pia van Gelder.