Action/reaction is the governing principle in this interactive light-and-sound installation, the latest in a series by the conceptual artist Chris Daubert. The show’s title, Transfiguration, intimates profound religious experience, but the pleasures it affords fall more credibly into the realm of the senses.
Like Daubert’s previous installations, this one takes place in a darkened room. Walk past a wall of motion sensors hidden inside PVC tubes and another nearby wall — sheathed in glimmering shards of sheet metal – vibrates, in varying timbres, like an orchestra of muted xylophones. (Even without human input, these snippets rustle silently with the air currents, like the swatches of a sequined billboard.) Across the room, a curtain of plastic netting embedded with LED bulbs responds similarly; it lights up patterns that conjure night visions of an urban skyline, rendered red-against-black.
Installations of this sort have become widespread – particularly in public art — because they invite and reward audience participation. In this hyper-wired, Cage-like exercise in human kinesiology, the audience willingly becomes instigator and spectator. The process is intuitive: Once you realize that the apparatus — which consists of thousands of solenoid-activated “resonators”, 150 miles of wire, 4,500 heat sensors and a great many lights — is triggered by your own movement, it’s impossible not to start improvising bodily gestures. However, to fully take in the complex range of tonal and percussive possibilities that can be wrung from this electro-kinetic “instrument” you need to stand close.
The problem is: you can’t activate either the resonators or the LED lights and fully absorb their output because of the way the sensors are positioned in relation to their electronic destinations. While it’s easy to observe the visual and acoustic consequences of other people moving around the room, the installation would be stronger if the moving elements were positioned so that they could be plainly seen (and heard) while you are activating them.
Daubert, who teaches the history of Meso-American art, maintains that the project was inspired by the shamanistic ritual of issuing divinations from the light patterns inside the ancient temple of Chalchihuites. While the artist has undoubtedly had some transporting experiences in northern Mexico, it’s difficult to see the evidence here. The force he attempts to channel, that of pre-Columbian mysticism, was far more apparent in the digital drawings that he displayed in a recent show at the b. sakata garo gallery. These renderings of crumbling stone walls gave off the aura of infra-red photographs and had a near-hallucinatory quality. They showcased Daubert’s talent for creating art that makes us question our senses.
Prior examples of such installations include The Hidden (2008) and the truly mind-bending Travelers Amid Mountains and Streams (2005). Both used sensory deprivation to upset viewers’ sense of equilibrium.
Transfiguration, while not life-altering, is an engaging and highly musical installation that affirms Newton’s dictum, that for every action there will be an opposite and corresponding reaction.