Shotgun Review

Retro-Tech

By Dorothy Santos October 8, 2010

Is the imagination a mode of technology? What role does the imagination play in technological advancements such as sensor-laden homes, personal GPS devices, and televisions that can display four channels simultaneously? Artists for Retro-Tech, an exhibition at the San Jose Museum of Art, answer the question of how imagination operates in combination with technical knowledge, and ask the viewer to engage in re-working notions of technology quite imaginatively.

The exhibition includes Katya Bonnenfant, Aleksandra Mir, Tim Hawkinson, Scott Kildall and Victoria Scott, among others. Each salvages what may have been forgotten by colliding past and present, known with the unknown, imaginary and physical space. 

Mir’s collages re-contextualize imaginary space and religious iconography. She delicately places pious imagery within galactic space. Through such visual dichotomies, the viewer must reconcile unearthly opposites. In Aerial Mobile (1998), Hawkinson utilizes television antennae, fabric, and strings to provoke the viewer into seeing an obsolete object—the television antennae—in a different modality. The object embodies movement rather than functioning as it has historically, to make a moving picture still.

Bonnenfant meshes old and new technologies in her piece 2:57 Onibaba Anguish from “Vintage Packaging for Animation” (2009). In it, digital animation commands the viewer’s attention via an iPod Touch carefully installed within a vintage clock. Her craftsmanship in re-fashioning a retro digital clock illustrates what happens when imagination works in tandem with technology. Her confinement of the new by the old forces the viewer to recognize rapid change in a digital age.

The “No Matter” collection is the opposite of its name, but playful semantics remind patrons that these art objects, at one point, were derived from the imagination. Scott Kildall and Victoria Scott venture into a virtual economy by working with

Scott Killdall and Victoria Scott. Gift Horse, 2010; installation view photographed in progress. Courtesy of the Artists and the San Jose Museum of Art.  

Second Life users to bring imaginary objects into physical space by painstakingly and meticulously creating paper sculptures from inkjet prints on archival paper from digital renderings. In addition, the complexity of Kildall and Scott’s process and production alone couldn’t have prepared the museum staff for the arrival of a monumental thirteen-foot-tall Trojan Horse, reconstructed as a No Matter project and embedded with handcrafted viruses by visitors and artists alike. The horse was “gifted” to the museum and served as an incredible bridge between new technology and old-fashioned art making. 

The exhibition also includes the work of Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla from Puerto Rico; the collaborative work of REBAR (Blaine Merker, John Bela, and Matthew Passmore), from San Francisco; Camille Scherrer from La Tour-de-Peilz, Switzerland: Xu Zhen from Shanghai, and Ricardo Miranda Zúñiga, based in New York. Although these artists present varying methods of reinventing old technologies, collectively they show imagination and technology are, perhaps, synonymous. Technology makes one more imaginative, but it is the imagination that provides the impetus for technological advancement and ingenious iterations of the past.  

Retro-Tech is on view at the San Jose Museum of Art through February 6, 2011.

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Dorothy Santos is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. She holds a BA in both Philosophy and Psychology from the University of San Francisco.

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