Review: 'Signals Now' at RoCo

05:00 AM, Oct 26, 2013


Written By Donna De Palma

If you go

What: Signals Now.
When: Through Nov. 17, with a First Friday reception from 6 to 10 p.m. this week.
Where: Rochester Contemporary Art Center, 137 East Ave.
Cost: $1.
For more information: (585) 461-2222 or rochestercontemporary.org.

Signals Now,” an installation exhibit featuring the work of four internationally known new media artists at Rochester Contemporary Art Center, is an obscure inquiry into the relationship we have developed with electronic media.

The exhibit, which runs through Nov. 17, features the first exhibit by Signal Culture, a new group headquartered in Owego, Tioga County. With grant money from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, the group hopes to advance new media work and to provide residencies, resources and exhibition space.

The grant, $10,000 each of the next three years, will provide unrestricted capital to the group to build programming in Rochester and central New York.

Debora Bernagozzi, executive director of Signal Culture, says the plan is to build an experimental media studio with real-time analog and digital-image processing equipment with an on-site research center to document the history of experimental media art.

Bernagozzi stresses the new group’s work is relevant and cutting-edge. Unfortunately, the exhibit itself presents minimally developed concepts, ambigious and devoid of content. The viewer is left to wonder, if any honest inquiry has taken place here.

When I stepped inside RoCo, I was looking for a reason to recommend the exhibit. RoCo director Bleu Cease says the public response to Signals Now has been positive, with brisk traffic since it opened.

” ‘Signals Now’ has seen a steady stream of visitors,” he says. “For October’s First Friday, the gallery was packed with people curious about this new work.”

Signals Now” begs one question: Have we forfeited human experience and interaction for electronic dependence and a new, impersonal virtual world. I think most Americans agree, computers have cost us: our privacy, our time, our freedom, our intimacy.

Philip Stearns’ Heliocentrism is a sound and projection installation, “a comment about techno-media-centrism.” This piece is created by single channel video with stereo sound and low-frequency reinforcements. Stearns considers his medium to be electricity and “explores the circuit as a means for sculpting electricity.”

His Fragmented Memory, a triptych of woven tapestries using snapshots of his computer’s physical memory and selections of binary data, explores how information translates into form. Tapestries are woven on a computerized industrial Jacquard loom.

Kristin Lucas focuses on transformation and portraiture in her work. Her ETC Mix combines analog-processed stock video, stock sound and animated GIFs mixed to tape to show a graphically-modified image of a woman speaking.

Joe McKay’s Tweetagraph (2) is wired to send Twitter messages instead of telegraphs using an old-fashioned telegraph machine. A key with corresponding letters and a wall-mounted screen that shows the feed is part of the installation.

The most obscure examples in the exhibit are those of Peer Bode. His works, including Intermodulations #1, a black and white large-scale print project, are about “electronic time, actions and events,” his description says. Neither beauty nor aesthetics is the subject or the object in contemporary arts today.

Cease believes RoCo has a responsibility to emerging forms of art and to put the city on the map as a destination for people interested in art that’s current. As part of RoCo’s mission, each year, the gallery is committed to a digital arts exhibit.

Unfortunately, “Signals Now” is a self-conscious attempt and lacking in outward passion. The medium may be the message, but it just isn’t enough for us to care about what these artists are saying about our modern world.