SF State interactive art exhibit opens in memory of late professor Stephen Wilson

SmART space exhibit

Machine artist Kal Spelletich shows the " Robotic Hand" to his student Justine Lucas,in the Fine Arts Building last Tuesday, at the SFSU..The hand senses human reaction upon contact. Photo by Mihail Matikov.

A robotic hand welcomed guests to the SmART Space opening reception, deciding which of its three grip strengths to use based on each person’s heartbeat and touch.

The interactive exhibit, which explores the relationship between art and technology through the eyes of four west coast artists, Alan Rath, Maggie Orth, Gail Wight and Jim Campbell, celebrated its opening reception Thursday in The Fine Arts Gallery and will run through March 15.

Interactive art began as a genre in the 1990s and aims to set a scene in which audience input is required to experience the work.

“The rules of response, as designed by the artists, are key to the success of any interactive artwork,” said Orth.

The exhibition was put together in memory of Stephen Wilson, professor of art and head of the conceptual and information arts program at SF State, who passed away Jan. 10 of last year. The idea for the exhibit is rooted in Wilson’s works and writings.

“Wilson is a pioneer of this art and technology movement,” said gallery manager Sharon Bliss.

Bliss, along with gallery director Mark Johnson and conceptual and information arts Professor Paula Levine, worked with SF State art students to organize the exhibition.

Upon entering the gallery, a circular LED screen atop a tripod projects a single, moving eye. The eye is programmed to never repeat its motions, giving the illusion of following guests’ movements with a wandering glance.

Orth’s constantly evolving textile installation “100 Electronic Art Years” illuminates the back wall. It is made up of 50 hand-woven, textile pixels. With the push of a button, the interwoven conductive yarn heats up as temperature-sensitive ink seeps through the fabric. Within five minutes, the textile patterns become brighter and brighter, after which the colors begin to fade until the next time the button is pushed.

“My use of electronic materials is a significant part of the work’s meaning,” said Orth. “These materials represent time, infinity and metaphysical powers.”

Fifteen suspended eight-foot poles hang in the middle of the gallery, depicting photographic prints of diverse natural environments. As guests walk among the poles, motion sensors trigger sounds that correlate with each photographic location.

“The incorporation of photos and sounds is like walking through a lit rainforest,” said SF State photography alumna Breanne Stonge.

Black netting houses hundreds of light bulbs to the right of the gallery, hung at varying lengths to create a slanted light installation. Fewer than 10 people can enter this room at one time due to the fragility of the light bulbs and limited space.

The opening reception concluded with a performance by San Francisco-based media artist and performer Pamela Z at Knuth Hall in the Creative Arts building. She looped live vocal samples and sounds of birds, typewriters and various beats to create heavily layered songs.

Screen projections accompanied each song. During one of the last songs, Pamela Z filmed a series of five-second clips of herself singing and making different facial expressions. She then strung these clips together side-by-side on the screen.

“It’s a high technology show, but there’s also a poetic feel to it,” said Bliss. “The artists mix those elements together seamlessly.”

The gallery, located in room 238 of the Fine Arts building, is open Wednesday through Saturday until March 15 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free.

SmART space exhibit SFSU

Students and faculty watching the "Tilted plane" by Jim Campbell- a grid of evenly spaced LEDs to transmit moving and still imagery. It was shown in the Fine Arts Building last Tuesday, at the SFSU. Photo by Mihail Matikov.

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