In a nice coincidences of exhibitions, the Portsmouth Museum of Art and the Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art in Portland are currently featuring shows in which contemporary artists use 21st century technologies to wonderful aesthetic effect.
In iImage: The Uncommon Portrait (through April 24), the Portsmouth Museum of Art presents yet another in its challenging series of exhibitions, this one curated by Stephanie Holt and featuring 14 artists who, in various hi tech ways, redefine the concept of portraiture for the 21st century.
In Fracturing the Burning Glass: Between Mirror and Meaning at MECA’s ICA (through April 10), curator Linda Lambertson brings together the works of four artists who use digital and mechanical media to expand the nature of reflection and identity. sculptural installation, photography, video, and
The one artist iImage and Mirror have in common is Daniel Rozin, an interactive art star who teaches at New York University. Born in Jerusalem and trained as an industrial designer, Rozin creates on the cutting edge of art and technology.
In Portsmouth, Rozin is represented by his 2004 “Time Scan,” one of his series of “software mirrors” that respond in various ways to the physical presence of people. In “Time Scan,” one vertical line of pixels of a person’s likeness is scanned and continuously copied sideways, creating a wavy log of person from a variety of angles over the course of 30 seconds.
In Portland, Rozin shows three of his hi tech mirrors, my favorite being his 2006 “Snow Mirror,” a mesmerizing installation that uses a computer, custom-designed software, a video camera and a silk screen to create “mirror” images of the viewers. Stand in a darkened room in front the screen and the “snow” that seems to be falling on the screen coalesces around your likeness. I saw people spend more time in front of Daniel Rozin’s “Snow Mirror” than any work of art I have ever seen except maybe the Mona Lisa.
Photography made the art of portraiture more or less obsolete except for memorializing retired college presidents, governors, and corporate CEOs. But, as iImage illustrates, what becomes obsolete also becomes liberated, freed to be something entirely different than a mere likeness. In “Uniform/s:Self-Portrait/s: My 39 Years,” for example, Korean artist Do Ho Suh offers a clothes rack upon which he has hung the 10 different uniforms he has worn in his life.
New Yorker artist R. Luke Dubois used algorithms to create “portraits” of U.S. presidents out of the words used most frequently in their State of the Union Addresses. The words are then mounted on light boxes like optical acuity eye test charts.
You get the idea? Need I go on? Both iImage in Portsmouth and Fracturing the Burning Glass in Portland present complex, sometimes mystifying, always compelling works of art that challenge the very definition of what a work of art is or can be, which is what most great art did in its day.
[Portsmouth Museum of Art, One Harbour Place, Portsmouth NH, 603-436-0332. Institute of Contemporary Art, Maine College of Art, 522 Congress St., Portland ME, 207-699-5040.]