This article is part of a series funded by Great Meadows Foundation.
What’s it like to live inside an artist’s mind? Kentucky International Convention Center’s recent “Beyond Van Gogh” exhibit creates an interactive experience that takes visitors inside the artist’s psyche, utilizing technology and video to immerse guests directly into Van Gogh’s works, from emotional letters to his brother to electric swirling projections that wrap viewers into his celebrated works.
While the interactive experience incorporating video and technology is not an entirely new concept, it is an impressive use of the mediums and certainly a “must-see” show.
LEO recently caught up with local visual arts institutions to discuss the role of video and technology in the viewers’ experience. We spoke with Andrew Cozzens, assistant professor and director of 849 Gallery at Kentucky College of Art and Design; Ron Davey, head preparator, Speed Art Museum; and Alice Gray Stites, chief curator and museum director at 21c, to get their takes on the integration of video, technology and immersive visual art experiences happening in our community.
LEO: What recent exhibits has your organization used to incorporate video and/or technology? Do you have any exhibits upcoming of this type? Have any of these included other sensory/immersive experiences?
Ron Davey: We recently had a work by Sanford Biggers where we placed a caution label outside the room for [potentially] disturbing images and sound. The video consisted of three monitors showing traditional African sculptures being blown apart by gunfire. A comment possibly on gun violence and colonialism.
As far as future exhibitions that use video, we have one based on Alfonse Mucha, who was an Art Nouveau artist. This is more of an experience with traditional art, but incorporates a large video as an additional way to flesh out the exhibit.
Alice Gray Stites: Exhibitions at 21c usually include video and other art forms that utilize technology. All 21c exhibition spaces are designed to include a dedicated video lounge for showing fi lm, video and other tech-based artworks. Currently, the video lounge in Louisville is occupied by a site-specific installation, ‘The Garden,’ by Portia Munson. However, also featured in ‘Still, Life! Mourning, Meaning, Mending’ are two videos by Calixto Ramirez on a monitor in the main gallery, as well as an interactive, generative work by Jonathan Rosen. Visitors to 21c can always expect to encounter moving images and other technology-based art, in our exhibitions as well as in permanent, site-specific installations, such as ‘Text Rain,’ by Camille Utterback and Romy Achituv, in the elevator lobby, which offers an interactive experience. Films, videos, artist interviews and more are also accessible on the 21c Art Channel in all 21c guest rooms, and via the 21c YouTube channel.
Andrew Cozzens: As an educational gallery in an interdisciplinary program, we try to represent a broad spectrum of artists and creative practices to expose the students to many different approaches to making and thinking. Technology plays a huge role in the development of new artistic practices. As technology progresses and expands, so does the artist’s toolbox. Furthermore, artists are often the drivers of technological progression as they constantly dream of new ways to push their ideas that may not necessarily speak to the needs of the existing marketplace. One exhibition that we hosted at the 849 Gallery that directly addressed the historical progression of video and technology was Christopher Ottinger’s solo exhibition, ‘Cinema of Distraction.’ This specific show examined and reinterpreted our intrinsic fascination with moving pictures, from the flickering shadows on the walls of ancient caves to the ever-present video imagery that spills out of our smartphones. The artist was offering us new applications for a number of pre-cinematic devices and techniques. Another show that comes to mind was ‘Fragments of a German-American Mind’ by Ron Schildknecht. Ron combined staged interviews with insightful documentary footage from German-American communities here in Louisville. In the process, he created portraits of both a fictional filmmaker and of a real place that was designed to be projected simultaneously all over the gallery space. We recently hosted our annual Senior Thesis exhibition, which also contained video work from one of our new graduates. Mackenzie Taylor created an installation that focused around a video projection in which she is chewing on sugarcoated photos of her late grandfather while an audio clip of her family members are telling stories about him.
LEO: Could you tell me how exhibits incorporating video/technology transform the viewer’s experience?
Stites: Experiencing artworks that incorporate technology is at once familiar, since so much of our daily lives are spent consuming information on screens, and also expansive — seeing screens and projections alongside paintings and sculptures gives viewers a sense of the ever-broadening possibilities of what contemporary art can be and do. 21c stands for 21st century — a commitment to the art of today is embedded in the 21c experience. 21c’s mission is to expand accessibility to the most dynamic art being produced today and to support visionary artists. Presenting work that is being created on the latest creative platforms is an essential part of the 21c museum program.
Davey: Viewers seem to like the incorporation of video and technology. In fact, I think they now almost expect it. People of all ages are drawn to it because of its immediacy and familiarity in today’s world.
Cozzens: All of the [above-mentioned works] use video and technology that affect the viewer’s experience. Ottinger’s exhibition utilized objects from both cinema history and current technology to show the spectacle of the moving image. From bouncing videos from multiple angles onto a single spinning block to projecting a moving image onto water vapor, he used light and movement to play with/skew the viewer’s experience of light and space. Schildknecht’s exhibition was more concerned with the traditions of film and filmmaking. He would project a narrative film alongside an installation where viewers were encouraged to try their hand at Dainty, a Germantown street game that dates back to the 1800s. Viewers were also allowed to manually view film through an early mechanism that Schildknecht utilized in his exhibition. By incorporating these techniques, the artist was expanding the viewer’s understanding and experience of watching film. Taylor’s use of video perfectly complements the other works in her exhibition. While her body of work focuses on issues of family lineage and the shortcomings involved with connecting to your ancestors, the up-close video of her wrestling to consume the images of her late grandfather allows the viewer to witness a repetitive act while listening and contemplating the metaphors within the multiple facets of the piece. By doing this, she makes the viewer consider multiple sensual impulses simultaneously.
LEO: Do multimedia shows resonate with a specific audience? Do you find viewers stay with the pieces longer that incorporate sound/tech/video?
Stites: It’s tempting to say that younger audiences resonate stronger with tech-based artworks, but as with any medium, when the content of a video, film, digital animation or other tech-based work is compelling, it resonates with a wide range of visitors. We do find that visitors to the dedicated video lounge do tend to stay for the duration of these works — which are typically between 5-15 minutes — considerably longer than the average viewing experience for other art forms.
Cozzens: I find that multimedia shows have become more popular for a lot of different audiences. Younger folks seem more interested for the reasons I mentioned above; they were raised in a time where digital technology has really progressed rapidly. I think the general public audience has become very interested, as well because it creates an experience within the fine art context that can compete with other means of entertainment that many people, especially those that may not necessarily be interested in fine arts, seek out. I also think folks that are interested in the history and traditions of fine arts have interest, as well, and multimedia exhibitions, for better or for worse, have received a lot of attention in and out of the art world. For some, it is the natural progression of artists using the tools that are available to them, as they have throughout the centuries. For others, it is a spectacle that relies on its ability to visually captivate, although often lacking in originality and philosophical thought. It seems to appeal to most audiences for one reason or another because, regardless of your opinion of the work, it is not easily ignored. Personally, I equally appreciate artwork that makes me excited or disgusts me, but indifference is always a letdown. I approach video and new technology the same as I do drawing and sculpture — it starts with the idea, and I make work with whichever methods best carry out that specific idea. Of course, it is always fun to incorporate new technology because I get to learn new things and there is an inherent interest that it seems to cause in the viewer. I remember the first couple times I saw a video playing in a gallery/museum, and I sat and watched the entire thing each time. After a few trips to different galleries I noticed that most of my time visiting those exhibitions was spent watching video pieces of varying lengths. On one hand, I thought it was cool that these video works were holding the viewer’s attention much longer than other forms of artwork. Then, I began to consider the amount of time I was spending watching video work instead of artworks that I found much more interesting. I think it is inherent because we are all so accustomed to looking at screens for a significant part of our day. Other than eating and sleeping, most of the things we do as humans can be done through a screen these days. Specifically, we are used to watching narratives unfold in front of our eyes through movies and TV, so it is very comfortable and familiar for us to relax in front of a moving image and wait to see what unfolds. The mistake, however, is that we often assume that the ‘entire story’ of a drawing, sculpture or photograph is unveiled to us instantly and automatically, allowing us to move on from it after just a few seconds of viewing. This is usually not the case. It takes time to see an artwork, from the artist’s aesthetic decisions to the use of material, and the hand of the artist, and not to mention all of the possible connections to our universal and individual past experiences and histories that we bring to the work. The contexts and connections are endless. I often tell students that viewing artwork is just as important as making it — both parties can only achieve 50% alone, just like a speaker and listener or performer and audience. This is why we must make an effort to pay attention to the artworks that aren’t as prescribed or extravagant. Some of the best artwork I have ever seen was visually very boring. My favorite video artworks seem to be the slower and more mundane ones because they offer more time and space for me to reflect and think about what I am looking at.
LEO: Have you curated or visited any local exhibits/shows of note incorporating video and technology?
Stites: The Speed Museum has done an excellent job in recent years of building dedicated spaces for important video works by artists like Mika Rottenberg, Ebony G. Patterson, Sanford Biggers and others.
Cozzens: I curated an exhibition years ago that touches on this topic pretty directly. It was an exhibition called ‘Cinema Killed the Video Star’ that was a co-curated project with a fellow artist/curator Stacey Reason at the PUBLIC Gallery, which was once located down on Whiskey Row. It was an exhibition that highlighted the specific characteristics of video artwork as opposed to cinematic fi lm. Beyond curating, I also use video installation in my own practice. My work deals with the human perception of time which often includes durations such as melting, rusting or evolving over the course of the exhibition. Some ideas are better realized through a video projection due to the limitations of the gallery or if the work is more about capturing and presenting phenomena rather than creating it. Video is a great tool to have in your toolbox. I recently visited the ‘Van Gogh Experience’ in Indianapolis. It was cool like a light show at a dubstep concert is cool — technically and visually impressive but lacking in meaning and originality. I appreciate it for what it is, and if it gets more people to seek out Van Gogh’s work, that’s great. However, it left me missing the texture of Van Gogh’s paint, the individual marks on the canvas, and his use of contrasting color. I also missed the opportunity to look closely at the artwork, to really consider all of the aesthetic decisions that the artist made, and to sympathize with what he was going through at that particular time. The only intentions I noticed in the ‘Van Gogh Experience’ involved multiple t-shirt stands, expensive tickets and endless selfie opportunities. Again, I think the production is exciting and it serves a specific role in the art world, but I hope it is contextualized as a show and not a replacement for the experience that you can have in front of the artist’s original works.
LEO: Are there other approaches your organization has taken to immerse viewers in a multimedia experience (i.e. taste, smell, interactive activities, etc.)?
Stites: 21c has commissioned and exhibited a wide range of multimedia experiences, including VR works by Jakob Kudsk Steensen, an AR wallpaper installation by Claudia Hart, interactive works that utilize surveillance technology by Rafael LozanoHemmer, and many more. One AR work that 21c produced in Louisville remains on view and accessible to the public via mobile phone: a collaboration between Louisville artist Brianna Harlan and LA-based artist Nancy Baker Cahill. “She Ascends,” is an AR memorial to the life of Breonna Taylor that is geolocated via Drive Studio’s 4th Wall app, floating in front of Louisville’s Metro Hall.
Cozzens: Yes, in addition to exposing our students to such artwork and experiences, KyCAD has also partnered with the Louisville Orchestra and Louisville Ballet to create collaborations with artists that included a very wide range of approaches. During the Orchestra performance, artists used laser projection and even artwork that utilized taste that coincided with the music. During the Ballet production, artists were collaboratively displaying sculptural installation, video and projection mapping that moved along with the dancers.
Davey: Today’s exhibits seem to rely on technology more and more. Seldom do we have an exhibition now that does not incorporate some sort of video technology. We had a medieval Book of Hours on view once and the curator, Kim Spence, figured out a way to digitize all the pages and allow the viewer to fl ip through them on a touch screen, thus allowing the person to actively look at the book without touching it. Another interactive piece was done by the artist Yinka Shonibare called ‘American Library.’ There were shelves of thousands of books covered in Dutch Wax cloth. Dutch wax is the term for a brightly colored patterned cloth introduced by the Dutch in colonies of Africa. Each book was inscribed with the name of a notable person. Viewers could search the program downloaded on iPads to research that person’s background, ancestry and family immigration. Another interesting technology piece is one by Wolfgang Buttress. He has set up a live feed from a Brambley apple tree in the UK. This tree, over 200 years old, is the ancestor of all Brambley apples and is dying. The live feed reports the weather and natural effects on the tree any time of day or night. At the Speed is a sculpture comprised of thousands of 3-inch glass blocks in which a 3D image of the tree is etched. A light panel mounted below the blocks changes light according to the live feed from the tree in the UK. [It is] not interactive with the viewer, but with nature in a sense. Other video-based pieces we had in a recent exhibit called ‘Supernatural America.’ One artist used a life-size high definition plasma screen to show a video of a daughter, mother and grandmother in slow motion moving toward the viewer in a sort of unfocused haze, but ultimately break through a screen of water and confront the viewer in high definition.
LEO: Tell me how video and technology play an overall part in KyCAD’s curriculum.
Cozzens: KyCAD’s curriculum is subject-led. This means that students are encouraged to think interdisciplinary regarding their approach to making. We focus on developing their understanding of their individual subject matter and research. This inadvertently allows students to get excited about new technology and the options to mix and match what materials they’re using in their practice. Video and installation are two avenues that younger students seem to be drawn to more and more as many contemporary artists are working in those areas and younger students generationally are more familiar and knowledgeable about screen-based interfaces. •
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