Critics’ Picks

View of “The Birdwatchers,” 2011.

View of “The Birdwatchers,” 2011.

New York

“The Birdwatchers”

bitforms gallery NYC
131 Allen Street
December 8, 2011–January 21, 2012

At this gallery, which is devoted exclusively to “artists who embrace new media,” one might expect to discover work that at least partially falls prey to the swarm of clichés commonly associated with digital art: fast-paced, sexualized homages to the cyborg, for instance. Laura Bardier, however, with her curation of “The Birdwatchers,” has managed to create an approach to the genre that is refreshingly slower, subtler, and––if it can be said––more natural than any cyborg-obsessed stereotype.

Every piece on view displays a moment in nature serenely perverted to create something decidedly, but unsettlingly, other. Marina Zurkow’s Mesocosm (Northumberland UK) (all works cited, 2011), for example, purports to be an “animated landscape portrait” of a Northumberland man sitting on a stump in the woods of northern England, watching the seasons pass while visited by a steady stream of native animals. All mutable subjects in the scene are governed by a probability equation unfurling on a 146-hour cycle that corresponds to a 365-day year, with each minute of the work representing one hour of real time.

The most overt “cyborgs” of the show are also those subjects most directly taken from nature. In Moving Plant #24, Colombian artist Adriana Salazar makes her US debut. The piece features a pilfered branch from the backyard of an American friend. Placed upright, flagpolelike, in the center of the gallery, the rotting branch recalls Frankenstein, as it is reanimated by a set of sequenced, custom-made electronics, all connected to the foliage by impossibly thin nylon. Nearby thrashes the corpse of a different character in Bird #2: a taxidermied bird, brought “back to life” in the same manner. Its wings and tail furl and unfurl––a dance for the naturally dead, in the corner of the emerald-green room.