New York

Steve Barry

The mere thought of the interactive sculpture or environment cultivates my passivity. The anticipation of being gyrated, used, or optically illused so as to service, more often than not, some unremarkable kinetic invention is not my idea of entertainment or profundity. But it is always good to be surprised. Steve Barry’s installation in this small gallery required each viewer’s active, somewhat risky participation. Entitled Poseidon, 1988, it embraced the rich tradition of the art installation and exploited it with rare intensity, absolute thoroughness, and some daring.

Storefront for Art and Architecture’s west elevation is about two feet wide. From this blunted apex, the south elevation splays out slightly to form a dramatic, difficult, wedge-shaped exhibition space. Barry’s installation followed the contours of this interior landscape.

The project consisted of an open welded-steel armature with eight fan-shaped blades carefully positioned the length of a central axis; they increased gradually in size. The blades were steel frames that supported taut, translucent screens. At the broader end of the apparatus was a prowlike platform; access was provided via two, clear plastic steps. On the deck, a central foot pedal (when depressed) set the machine into disturbing motion. The small platform rocked back and forth as if it were floating on ocean swells. At the same time, a vertical, saw-toothed chain began to rotate the central axis and its blades. A menacing sound became audible but remained indistinguishable, and a short film of a hand opening and closing, threatening and imploring, was projected through the surfaces of the rotating blades. The blades’ positions were calculated so that the hand increased in size and clarity as the projected image jumped in timed sequence toward the viewer. The gallery was darkened, with small spotlights illuminating only the projector and the platform at opposite ends of the apparatus. The combined effects of actual motion, the distorted characteristics of filmic time and motion, and the penetrating audio element (by Jonathan Rosen) created a “lost at sea” experience—heaving monotony, strange hallucinations, and constant sound.

For Barry, the installation format is not solely an esthetic exercise; it is a method for interrupting the usual consummation of viewer and art object in order to create a more frustrated, politicized union. The piece does, in fact, move the participant, but it succeeds because it stimulates the viewer intellectually and emotionally. It penetrates the psyche through its disquieting insinuations and sense of disequilibrium. The interaction is the beginning, rather than the end, of a complex perceptual experience. Barry’s work recalled the original iconoclastic, alternative objectives of installation work, and the notion that its specific and temporary parameters posit different questions about the genesis, use, and apprehension of art. It also demonstrated the potential for provocation and contradiction embedded in the idea of installation.

Patricia C. Phillips

#image 2#