Santa Barbara


University Art Museum / Museum of Art

Things whirr, click, glow, and tremble in this sprawling, multiple-site exhibition. “PULSE 2”(the name is an acronym for people using light, sound, and energy) features more than 80 works by 60 artists concerned with the interrelatedness of art and physical phenomena. The more mechanical aspects of this practice were once called “kinetic art,” and a number of important figures in the history of kineticism are represented here, along with contemporary artists working with a variety of new technologies, including computers, fiber optics, and audio and video electronics. There are even a few works on display here that employ such primordial materials as air, fire, and water. The exhibition is intended to cohere around themes of novelty and responsiveness: the former as embodied in technology; the latter as represented by the interaction between viewer and work or between work and natural forces. But the fascination with phenomenological matters made for several rather odd juxtapositions—Jenny Holzer’s LED sign, More Survival, 1985, has nothing more than a plug in common with Art Spellings’ illuminated and motorized wall relief, Free Spirit, 1986—and prompted the occasional inclusion of a number of kinetic one-liners.

Still, there are some marvelous effects to be encountered here. The large painted sphere in Michael Hardesty’s As If, 1990, at the University Art Museum, is illuminated by a floor-mounted black light. Its eerie green glow provides a proper visual counterpoint to the red LED sign, mounted on the wall above, that repetitively displays the names of various elements and toxic compounds found in the Earth’s atmosphere. Hardesty’s eco-political tableau seems to be missing something until the viewer passes between the light and the sphere. The shadow cast by the figures’ passage lingers on the iridescent surface of the globe for just a moment, as if it were a small planet remembering an extinct species of polluters. In the next room, Liz Phillips’ Soundtable I and II (Wet and Dry Landscape), 1989–90, also takes advantage of the movements of its audience to alter the conditions of its installation, in this case through changes in the sounds produced by hidden computers and amplifiers activated by electronic motion sensors. Two shallow boxlike tables occupy the center of the space; one contains a miniaturized landscape of rocks and combed sheep’s wool, the other is filled with water. The atonal synthesized sound reacts to a person’s approach through alterations in pitch, timbre, and volume. Response to these circumstances sends viewers wandering around the room in the attempt to influence the sounds.

At the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, the spinning blades of Alice Aycock’s Fata Morgana (Of Things Seen in the Sky), 1984, are reflected in a mirrored structure suspended from the ceiling. An orange neon arc provides an accent for the moving blades and invests the machinery with a subtly feminine aspect befitting the legendary Arthurian sorceress evoked in the work’s title. Among a number of works made for outdoor sites, Kristin Jones and Andrew Ginzel’s Atoll, Pacific Lagoon Project, 1990, offers a mixture of spectacle and responsiveness in the form of a 100-foot ring of fiberglass poles encircling a small golden dome set in the water of a lagoon. The poles move as a result of wind and hidden underwater machinery, and the effect makes the work seem enchanted, as if the circle of white and black painted tapers were a living emanation.

Buzz Spector

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