New York

Robert Whitman

Art and technology seems to have had its day. Much activity called “Experiments in Art and Technology” has produced little that could be followed up. But when experiments are really experiments, eventual practical applications (“practical” is used rather oddly here in referring to art or art-making) are not the point, but are only happy side effects. In this sense, an experiment that yields nothing useful is necessarily neither a failure nor a waste of time; at a minimum, the knowledge is gained that such experiment yields nothing useful or interesting. Nevertheless, there was a certain amount of activity, enthusiasm, and interest generated by these experiments. All this is only to say that if Robert Whitman’s “Projects” show at The Museum of Modern Art seems a lot of technology for not much art, there doesn’t seem to be much point in severity. The point is not whether we can count Whitman’s work as art, but rephrased, there seems to be much more cause than effect.

Of the four works in the show (not counting drawings for the separate works), three are paintinglike situations in which water flows down the wood or cloth surface from a horizontal pipe tucked within the frame at the top. A film loop is projected onto the wet surface from projectors clustered in the center of the room, suspended from the ceiling. In one work, the film projected onto a dark cloth surface and water was of two dancers dancing teeny-bopper style to Fats Domino’s singing of “Blueberry Hill.” In another, the image of a burning match is projected onto watery wooden planks, which according to a notice on the wall formed a “contradiction.” A contradiction is formed only in the most stretched metaphorical sense. I don’t think the description of the situation is any less interesting than the experiencing of it. The projector for the third work in the room, also of watery wooden planks, was not working. One interesting aspect of this work, perhaps only accidental or incidental, was that the water trickled down the wood planks in narrow channels forming a row of wiggly vertical lines. Between these channels, the wood was perfectly dry.

A fourth larger work, in a separate room, consisted of a blue metal stairway descending from the top of one wall to the center of the room, with water flowing and slopping down each step, and a projected film loop on the opposite black wall of the same dancers and the same recording of “Blueberry Hill.” The water is more evident or active in this work, and there is something relaxing in the uneven slapping of the water down the stairs. There is a sense of continuous change within a constant form. But the dancers and the music seem irrelevant to the stairs despite a kind of structural connection between them in terms of the constancy and movement of the song and depiction within the film loop, analogous to the recycling of the water down the stairs and up again. If the situation seems analogous it is only in a metaphorical sense, unless the analogy is considered only in the formation of two loops. For the analogy to hold in a broader sense, we must imagine a film loop whose images varied with each repetition of the cycle, in which case, we could not consider it a film loop.