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Vital forces

Danni Zuvela

Clunking and clanking, metallic echoes, submarine-like blips and beeps, the faint whir of a distant turbine. With these eerie, disembodied noises Temporal Intervals announces itself. As you descend the stairs at the Powerhouse, your eyes meet a video image of deep red and black shapes mutating, pulsating and replicating to these enigmatic sounds.

Artist Trish Adams’ installation consists of a digital video loop, here projected on the wall of the Visy theatre, and a complex interactive counterpart with a foot pedal-triggered kymograph and webcam feeding back to a website. The kymograph is a familiar contraption even if its name is not. An instrument for recording various time-related events, it consists of a revolving drum with a record sheet on which a stylus or penpoint travels in response to stimulus. In Temporal Intervals, the kymograph is recontextualised as a mark-making device; as an artist’s rather than scientist’s tool. The participant depresses the pedal, generating a twitch in the machine which is recorded onto the paper and duly transmitted to the website. The trace of that action forms part of the (continuously evolving) cross-media artwork. New media art’s “marriage of 3 cultures”–art, science and technology–is explored in a directly sensual way with the kymograph/website configuration, but Adams’ inquiry into the aesthetic dimensions of the scientific instrument also results in a proficiently staged, somewhat more abstruse video artwork, Dolly 00121.

In this video loop, humanoid figures, some foetus-shaped, some resembling children’s paper cutouts, merge with images of dividing and replicating cultured cells scraped from the artist’s body. This miscroscopy work, which, abstracted from the scientific context has an exquisite beauty of its own, gains new dimensions with the use of Sabattier-like effects and when dissolved with images of the rotating drums and rolling paper of the kymograph. The physical resemblance between these drums and the power turbines of the Powerhouse’s previous incarnation is uncanny; together with the neighbouring set-up of the kymograph and webcam, the artwork constitutes an intriguing, multivalent discourse on electricity.

The early uses of the kymograph to investigate the vital force of life saw its application in, initially confirming, then measuring and quantifying bioelectricity. Now, centuries later, participants intervene in the artwork, receive visual confirmation of the electrical action of their own nervous systems and leave a physical trace of that action. Electricity is the work’s matrix and motif and the kymograph is the fulcrum of this installation. In a society grappling with issues in biotechnology, the artist can be seen to operate as a kind of social kymograph, responding to stimulus and recording, scribing those concerns in a concrete record. Temporary Intervals joins an increasingly important conversation about science and culture, nodding toward questions of scientific determinism and whispers about post-humanity. The video work is particularly successful in its aesthetic response to scientific developments, but is the richer as an art experience for its collocation with the kymography. Interbreeding the physicality and permanence of mark-making with the ephemerality of the data age, Temporary Intervals represents a fascinating and convincing synthesis of analogue and digital concerns.

Temporal Intervals, artist Tricia Adams, Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Foyer & Stairwell, June 23-July 7

RealTime issue #57 Oct-Nov 2003 pg. 24

© Danni Zuvela; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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