Shepherd Express

‘Vital Technology’ at MIAD
High-tech fun house of art in motion
By Kat Murrell

Vital Technology” is an exhibition much enjoyed by me and my shadow. If you visit, you’ll see what I mean. Artists Bryan Cera and Nathaniel Stern have put together eight installations in the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design’s Frederick Layton Gallery, which are activated by the viewer through various means of physical interaction. The works synthesize strong visuals, sound and motion in a high-tech funhouse that also proposes questions about the influence of technology in our lives.

About that shadow part: a number of the installations are large-scale projections where the viewer becomes part of the piece. Stroll in front of Cera’s Supercontroller and watch your shadow grab at coins and otherwise jump around in a virtual world that borrows from Super Mario Bros. 3. You have become your own game character and your shadow stretches as you grow in video game strength. It then shrinks and collapses as you meet your demise for not avoiding pesky animated nemeses. Stern’s elicit is a wall projection of flickering text that builds like unreadable poetry, falling in color from blue to purple to paler shades. With a flick of your hand, a letter is bumped and then drifts away. It becomes legible, gaining freedom from the pack, but losing the contextual comfort of its companion language.

Many of the installations have audio tracks, including Supercontroller with its video game pings and rings. The most aurally engaging is Social-Sonic Architecture, #3, a collaboration between the artists and others. It looks like something pieced together from Radio Shack, with a series of speakers wired up on the wall. Say something into the microphone at the end of the line and your processed voice rolls like a wave along the wall, pulsing through the sound system with a strangely fascinating disembodied presence.

The exhibition is designed to elicit reflection on the ability of technology to exert influences on the way we move, speak and otherwise react to our surroundings. In the gallery, the playful novelty nearly supersedes these significant questions, but it is outside the exhibition that one reflects on these quieter notes.

“Vital Technology: Interactive works by Bryan Cera and Nathaniel Stern” continues through Dec. 6 at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, 273 E. Erie St.

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Incident Magazine

Polaroid Excavations: the Opening of Weather Patterns: The Smell of Red
Angeli Sion for Incident Magazine

Weather Patterns: The Smell of Red, a sensorial and collaborative ecological installation, surfaced to air the proposition of artists Erin Manning and Nathaniel Stern, co-produced with Marcelino Barsi [and curated by Jennifer Johung], to heighten an exchange of the senses in a body that barely registers the arrival of intersensoriality.

Tapping into weather as a medium via architectural and sculptural elements, the installation materialized conditions for bodies to come together in unexpected ways across becoming mercurial fields. The appearance of a tornado becomes contingent on the bodies around it. At a certain alignment of body and object, a dancing of the field occurs.

Coinciding the same evening as the installation were Juliana España Keller’s “Food Gestures“ and Michael Hornblow’s explorations of the infrathin with “OmegaVille”. Keller’s installation of hanging glass terrariums offered food such as almonds, blueberries, dried ginger, and reindeer moss from Quebec in the yard. In its poetic gesture to foraging and the act of reaching and going back to the earth it enacted an exchange of knowledge. Through video and online photo spheres downstairs, Hornblow produced an exchange of perceived space at the interface of insides and outsides, street to gallery, through conflating layers of time.

Although all three installations generated participatory conditions in disparate locations throughout Glasshouse, the long-term art-life-lab project and space of Lital Dotan and Eyal Perry, their undercurrents converged through and across the bodies of those who came the night of the opening, back and forth in loops, transforming the senses.

The following Polaroids mark this dancing of the field between bodies in performing their own mutable states, excisions into inside, outside the image, and material engagement with image-making as one that unfolds over time.

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Weather Patterns: The Smell of Red, was a sensorial and collaborative ecological installation, produced by Erin Manning and Nathaniel Stern with Marcelino Barsi, coinciding with installation Food Gestures by Juliana España Keller and OmegaVille by Michael Hornblow the same evening at Glasshouse, June 1, 2014.

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MKE Journal Sentinel

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Strange VegetationInstallation conflates organic, artificial
This article by Mary Louise Schumacher appeared in both the online and print editions of the MJS

Latex. It’s that thin, stretchy sheath that gives us the most intimate proximity to the forces of nature while disuniting us from it utterly, too. It’s the gloves surgeons pull taut over their fingers to manhandle our internal organs or the condoms donned to keep creation at bay.

It’s a barrier. It’s skin, imitated.

Though made from one of the gooiest materials found in nature — the milky, primordial ooze of flowering plants — latex also embodies notions of sterility, of human control and safety.

All of these incongruities, connotations and contradictions come wonderfully to bear in the odd objects fashioned from latex by artist Yevgeniya Kaganovich. Her works are in many ways about these points of intersection, where what’s natural and what’s artificial are like inside-out versions of each other.

Because many people are allergic to latex, visitors to the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum are warned of its presence by small, makeshift, computer-generated signs tacked to the walls along the route to the upstairs gallery where Kaganovich’s latest installation is on view.

Long before we arrive, the scent, familiar to anyone who’s spent time in a lab, dentist chair or hospital ward, comes to us – at us – rather than the other way around. With my sinus membranes laced with it, the bouquet wormed its way to some part of my psyche to do with pain and mortality.

And that was still out in the hallway.

The installation itself is in what was once a child’s bedroom, a kind of magical, otherly space where human history and Earth time seem to face off, where notions of what’s real and not are already at play.

David Adler, who designed this Italian Renaissance-style mansion, built in 1923, was known for recreating the architectural styles of the past in his residential commissions. He covered the walls of this room with a panorama dense with exotic birds, trees and blooms.

It took 50 men to create the 24 panels of wallpaper using a Napoleonic-era technique, more than 1,500 wooden plates and 192 colors. It had to be done “by hand,” it was thought at the time. Any mechanical assistance would have made this faux scene somehow inauthentic.

So, fantasies of fictional landscapes and bygone periods co-mingle in this space, the Renaissance-era architectural style, the early 19th century interior design traditions and the early 20th century recreations, now themselves open to nostalgic fixation. And this ricochet of centuries is happening, let’s not forget, in a structure that both recalled the past and is aging in real time.

Bringing all of this human history into perspective, of course, is the room’s defining characteristic — its expansive view of the lake. The windows open to a spill of formal gardens and that body of blue, a rare place on Earth, carved out by advancing and retreating glaciers over millennia.

All of this becomes a platform for Kaganovich, who worked in collaboration with multimedia artist Nathaniel Stern on the piece. She responded to the room, particularly the world inside the wallpaper, for “Strange Vegetation.”

Splayed flaccid on the floor is a tangle of tendrils, something akin to colorless seaweed. These limp stalks are attached to little towers or nodes, set about the room.

A loud and sudden burst from an unseen compressor is heard inside the system. Air begins to flow through a series of tubes that connect the rhizomatic plant, which has propagated across the floor, clustering primarily in a corner away from the sun.

The pointy tendrils begin to inflate and rise, bobbing up, like time lapse-footage of plants used to teach children about photosynthesis. Almost imperceptibly, the conical shapes turn bulbous as the air seeps in, giving them the look of protruding onion plants.

The hoses that feed the system run off into a small side room where they connect to a box and a computer. A few staccato squeaks of the shut-off valve marks the end of this part of the cycle.

Movement stills. There’s a pause. It’s as if the plant is holding its breath. In this moment of suspension and quiet we’re transported to the floor of some magical if oddly unnatural garden. It’s a wonderful Thumbelina effect, leaving us to ponder the purpose of this peculiar prophylactic plant.

Then, another valve opens and air slowly begins to escape. The stalks bend and collapse, one by one, falling lightly to the floor like the limbs of lithe dancers. It is the sound of skin on wood.

For years, Kaganovich, one of Milwaukee’s more consequential conceptual artists, has made work that implies a sort of necessary and at times urgent human intervention into bodily functions. She has created fictional assistive technologies, sculptural objects that appear to aid speaking, seeing, hearing and — especially — breathing.

Intuitively we understand these prior works because of the ways they so directly related to the body — sculptures that could nestle inside an ear or be strapped over a nose and mouth. On inspection, though, we are left to puzzle over how these mysterious objects don’t do what they seem to promise. They fix nothing.

This dysfunction exists in “Strange Vegetation,” too, a manmade plant that shuns the sun and appears to exist on artificial life support. A plant that seems to breathe, that fills itself up with and retains air rather than generating oxygen like the rest of the plant kingdom.

This ventilation system evokes the unnerving psychological condition of life in the balance, something, again, we can relate to in a visceral and personal way. But with this work, Kaganovich explores something broader than the body. We are witnessing a system, a network, too.

That this is equally familiar to us, is telling. It’s a reminder of how entwined we are with things such as our online social networks and our urban infrastructures, things that themselves can function like prophylactic extensions or assistive technologies.

I can’t decide whether Kaganovich’s art is actually futuristic or of the future in a nostalgic way, like something from a 1950s science fiction novel. But they strike me as from an otherly time, not at all of the moment.

Yet, “Strange Vegetation” opens whole new pathways for puzzlement that are very much about our time. It raises questions about the boundaries that define life, about the organic tendencies in inorganic things, human systems, theoretical physics and architecture, among other things.

This makes Stern’s involvement, as an artist who works with digital mediums and who has created online interventions, particularly apt. (I am still thinking about “Falling Still,” their last collaboration together.)

The Villa Terrace and its curator Martha Monroe deserve a lot of credit for creating such a provocative show in a place that many curators would deem hostile to art and for commissioning a thoughtful essay and presentation from contemporary art historian Jennifer Johung as well.

It is wonderfully appropriate that we first take in this artwork through the act of breathing.

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MKE Journal Sentinel

milwaukee journal sentinel feature on strange vegetationVilla Terrace: Room-size plant is actually art
This article by Mary Louise Schumacher appeared in both the online and print editions of the MJS

Plants inhale and exhale, just like we do, though we rarely think of it in such terms. Inspired by this idea and the strange and wonderful wallpaper in a second-floor gallery at the VillaTerrace Decorative Arts Museum, artist Yevgeniya Kaganovich hatched the idea for a room-size installation that will behave like human lungs but will take on the appearance of a fantastical organism, with long stems, bulbous roots and shoots.

The computerized work, created in collaboration with multimedia artist Nathaniel Stern, will sprout from the museum’s decorative interior and respond to environmental triggers, such as fluctuations in temperature and light. The life of the museum is implied in the artwork, which will alter over time.

“Strange Vegetation” opens Wednesday at Villa Terrace, 2220 N. Terrace Ave., with an opening from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. and an artist’s talk at 6:30 p.m.

“Life Cycles,” a talk by an assistant professor of art history at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, held in conjunction with the show, will be at 7 p.m. June 16.

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Third Coast Digest

‘Strange Vegetation’ blooms at Villa Terrace
by Judith Ann Moriarty

It took 50 men to create the 24 panels of wallpaper using a Napoleonic-era technique, more than 1,500 wooden plates and 192 colors. It had to be done “by hand,” it was thought at the time. Any mechanical assistance would have made this faux scene somehow inauthentic.

So, fantasies of fictional landscapes and bygone periods co-mingle in this space, the Renaissance-era architectural style, the early 19th century interior design traditions and the early 20th century recreations, now themselves open to nostalgic fixation. And this ricochet of centuries is happening, let’s not forget, in a

Times, they are a changin’ at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum. Curator Martha Monroe, who arrived in 2009 and has since orchestrated seven exhibitions, has again met and conquered a challenge.

In this case, that challenge is transforming the staid Zuber Gallery on floor two into a room filled with latex forms given life via computers. Did you ever in your wildest dreams imagine that anything could actually work with the lush wallpaper jungle in the Zuber?

The installation lives. It breathes and responds to changes in temperature and light. Within the walls of the 1923 mansion at 2220 N. Terrace Avenue, the evolution begins June 8 and ends on July 24.

Okay, now think about a weird-o plant from a cheesy 50’s sci-fi flick, perhaps The Thing. Then consider Strange Vegetation, which indeed recalls those far-out funky flicks from fifty plus years ago. Blame it on two from the wild side: Yevgeniya Kaganovich, Associate Professor of Art and Design at UW-Milwaukee, and her sidekick in brilliant madness, Nathaniel Stern. It sure beats studying the designs on the wallpaper, but the wallpaper is the catalyst and symbiosis is the point. A few years back, Milwaukee Magazine touted Kaganovich as a local who would make a difference in this town. Stern’s CV reads like a fine novel of global proportions. What a match.

East and below floor two, The Renaissance Garden writhes with vegetation, a perfect fit with what’s lurking above…. On Thursday, June 16, from 7-8:30 p.m., Jennifer Johung, Assistant Professor of Art History at UW-Milwaukee, will talk about the installation and architectural symbiosis. Echoing through time are the footsteps of architect David Adler, who brought the building to fruition…. Thanks to Ms. Monroe, the visionary board and talented artists, the Allis and the Villa are in step with this world.

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