Calm and Commentary in Star Store

By Samantha Wahl, Contributing Writer

On Thursday, January 25, I found myself on the road to convergence.Actually, if you want to be technical, I was on the bus to Converge. The Converge Art Exhibit, hosted in the Star Store’s Gallery 244, opened on the twenty-fifth.

The exhibition features work from seven Rhode Island and Massachusetts-based alumni of the Signal Culture Residency. Based in Owego, New York, Signal Culture attracts young artists from all over the world eager to explore what Professor Ellen Mueller calls “boundary-straddling media.” Appropriately, the exhibits of Converge blur the line between video and traditional art, and occasionally, between art and science.

Greeting guests on the night of the reception is Professor Mueller, organizer of the show and one of its contributing artists. As soon as she spots visitors, she smiles brightly, thanks us for coming, and offers snacks. Professor Mueller, who lectures at UMass Dartmouth, organized this exhibit to bring together local Signal Culture alumni. (Despite their mutual connection to Signal Culture, none of the featured artists had met before Converge.) The video that is silently projecting onto a wall catches the eye of everyone who enters the exhibit. When I walk in, it’s showing a long shot of a woman staring at the camera.

It is initially very awkward; the viewer simultaneously feels the need to meet her eyes and the need to look away. Over time, however, staring at the woman becomes relaxing, almost meditative, instead of uncomfortable.

It’s at this point that anatomical-looking images slowly float into the shot; perhaps a neon pelvic x-ray, or what appears to be a ribcage. The first time this happens, I can hear someone in the gallery exclaim, “Woah!” I later learn that this piece is called iAm, and is the work of artist Colleen Keough.

Turning to the smaller monitors lining the walls, one can view six other pieces. Among them is GroundEffect by Nadav Assor, which consists of aerial shots of open fields and streets.

There’s also MindDraw by China Blue and Christopher Konopka. As Blue’s website explains, MindDraw was created using an EEG helmet that allowed participants to draw pictures using only their brainwaves.

The emotional state of the user would shape the design that appeared onscreen.  Professor Mueller’s piece, entitled The What It Takes Series, comprises video of volunteers cutting up fabric.

The video is silent except for the sound of seam ripper against cloth, and scissors against pom-poms. Mueller explains that the volunteers are cutting apart cheerleading uniforms. The piece was inspired by criticism of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election. Professor Mueller noticed that Clinton, like many women, was criticized for failing to conform to unrealistic ideals of feminine leadership. Woman are often tasked with “both leading and following,” she says, “which seems impossible.” Mueller chose the symbol of the cheerleading uniform to represent this archetype; by instructing her volunteers to “deconstruct” the uniform, she was deconstructing the archetype.

I also got a word in with artist Mark Cetilia, whose work Sea Drift is featured in the exhibition. Like the What It Takes Series, Sea Drift is more than it initially appears to be; the static patterns that make up the piece turn out to be signals from analog oscillators.

The oscillators were pointed out the window at Signal Culture’s building, and so the art depicts a day on the streets of Owego, New York. Cetilia explains that the disturbances that appear in Sea Drift translate to events like cars passing by.

One thing he’d like viewers to understand about Sea Drift is that it is a “captured moment in time”; the feed is unretouched, making it an honest portrait of a city at work. The Converge Video Exhibition can be found in the Star Store through February 3.

Photo Courtesy: Detail from “Iam” (Colleen Keough, 2014)
Photo Courtesy: Still Frame from “Sea Drift” (Mark Cetilia, 2018)

 

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