Barry Anderson with his installation “Fragments of Space: Multiplex” at Commerce Bank
The future is here, and so far it has not taken the form of flying cars, robot servants, convenient interplanetary travel, or most of the other technological promises offered by the creative media of the 20th and 20th centuries. .
It is rather the omnipresence of screens in our daily life that imposes itself as a demarcation between the strangely analog past and modernity. And so it’s only fitting that Barry Anderson’s installation, “Fragments of Space: Multiplex,” opens up to the world from four flat screens located in the Commerce Bank Building’s aptly named Digital Art Wall.
Part of a series of larger works that began in 2015, entitled “Fragments of Space”, the exhibition “Multiplex” takes viewers on an imaginary tour of physical and psychological spaces. Playing on a continuous cycle, video from each screen bleeds onto the next, leaving all four panels slightly ahead or behind their neighbors. This perpetual motion, along with the intentionally twisted positioning of each screen, may be shocking at first, but the ability of an intangible artistic experience to evoke an almost physical reaction in its audience is a triumph, not a flaw. Once viewers have taken a moment to acclimate to the rhythm of the play, they are likely to settle on one screen to watch, perhaps with brief stays to focus their attention on the gestalt of the four interacting screens.
Created using Cinema 4D and After Effects software, the actual content on the screens works in tandem with the infinite loops in which they play. Passersby who linger to watch an entire cycle of the installation will be rewarded with multiple visits to two distinct realms. The more easily recognizable landscape, an elegantly rendered maze, puts viewers in a first-person perspective moving through a post-industrial maze, with quick turns and dead ends.
The purpose of the maze remains a mystery; Anderson’s work embraces the premise that the journey matters more than the destination. Traversing the digital maze is fast, almost to the point of feeling frenetic and claustrophobic. Viewers can notice their lack of agency quite acutely, as all decisions about which direction to take are made on the other side of the monitors. Someone who would have chosen to go to the right will end up on the left.
To further titillate audiences, Anderson’s maze is populated with terrain and artifacts that practically beg a closer look. But alas, the motion of the video takes us past flooded chambers, a doll, and even a partially submerged cow with a speed that defies close scrutiny. Those brave enough to watch multiple times, of course, may have the opportunity to savor the detail that more cursory viewing would miss.
Between trips through the maze, Anderson takes viewers into an even more surreal environment that manifests as iridescent geometric shapes that expand and fold in on themselves. And although these sequences are more abstract, there is something about the undulation of light and color that evokes serenity. One interpretation could be that these segments represent the inner psychological workings of humanity. Another might see the artist taking pity on his audience and granting them a meditative reprieve between jaunts through the work’s most cognitively and emotionally taxing maze components.
In the end, the reason for the animations, which represent great technical mastery, is less important than the fact that they exist. Anderson’s art is deliberately minimalist, both aesthetically and in terms of the context it provides.
Human beings spend a huge portion of their waking hours staring at screens. Doing so in a way that promotes thought and elicits emotional catharsis is a unique and rare experience. To that end, Anderson does a great job of creating digital art for a digital age.
“Fragments of Space: Multiplex” continues at the Commerce Bank Digital Art Wall, 1001 Main St., through October 4. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, contact Robin Trafton, Custodian, Commerce Bank, 816.760.7885 or [email protected]