Avant-Garde Composer John Cage Inspires New Display at Beall Center for Art + Technology

infrared drawing device
Photo by Will Tee Yang

Beall Center for Art + Technology’s “Drawn From a Score” is inspired by the work of avant-garde musician John Cage, who is best known for 4’33”, in which musicians walk into a performance space, then don’t do anything for four minutes and 33 seconds, with the shuffling of feet, people coughing, the hum of air conditioning and other assorted sounds “performing” the score. Cage’s philosophical modus operandi was a liberating embrace of chance and uncertainty in which the work performed is never the same twice. Curator/Artistic Director David Familian’s astute collection—which includes a barely perceptible Sol LeWitt Wall Drawing 76 re-created by UC Irvine students from LeWitt’s instructions; Reunion, a collaboration with the John Cage Trust featuring a chess board that creates a soundscape when the game is played; computer programs that design video and write poetry—is both dizzying and intellectually challenging in scope. Be warned: If you’re barely computer literate, ask a docent for a tour.

David Bowen’s interactive, robotic infrared drawing device responds to a viewer’s movements, scrawling in charcoal on paper taped on the wall. It’s a jittery thing working within a limited range of movement, and the random half-circle drawings resemble the school’s anteater mascot. Frieder Nake’s 22.10.65 Nr. 3 is a tightly controlled piece drawn from mathematical algorithms, a stripped-down series of Mondrian lines and blocks, minus the vivid colors. Similarly, on a mission to program the amorphous idea of “beauty,” Hiroshi Kawano’s serigraph digitizes the Dutch painter’s colors into an image resembling a pixilated street map. Don’t hesitate to play general and push your hands through the non-toxic, child-safe sandbox of Israeli artist Shirley Shor’s conceptual discourse on borders, Landslide. Its colorful projected “virtual map” changes in real time with each new slope and valley made by your hand.

With many of the older artists having created the work decades earlier (and several now deceased), the show keeps their innovative memories alive, introducing younger audiences to work that might otherwise disappear. Likewise, as computer code falls out of fashion or gets replaced—new OS making old coding obsolete, punch cards becoming antiquated data graveyards, Flash art slowly disappearing online as Adobe phases it out—the show unflinchingly builds on and leaves us reflecting on the indeterminacy of our lives, not just in music and mathematics.

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Chris Natrop’s watercolor, metallic powder, glitter on hand-cut paper, string, yarn, projected video, lighting from 2015.
Photo by Dave Barton

There’s a quote from Henri Matisse on the patio outside the Irvine Fine Arts Center: “There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” Curator Yevgeniya Mikhailik’s multidisciplinary group show “LAND” invites us to examine our rocky relationship with nature, and while there aren’t any flowers to speak of and rarely did many of the creations inside move us, there are a handful that help us look at the familiar with fresh insight.

Jennifer Celio’s Rising and Falling (Antarctica) is a geometric beauty. Painted icebergs lie under plexiglass as if something ancient in a museum, as cellphone tower antennae spread out among them; a slow melt is suggested by empty silhouettes and the drop and drip of floor-mirror puddles. Virginia Katz’s handmade monoprint collagraphs resemble closeups of marble grain and cracked ice or photographs of ocean depths taken from space, bringing us closer to evocations of the real world while also having nothing to do with it. Christine Weir’s graphite-on-gray panel drawings are meant to be meditative exercises, the monochromatic pictures corresponding to clouds or landforms against a circular backdrop that may or may not be the sun. Instead, they feel like a suffocating view from under the ground, looking up. Christine Nguyen’s seashell and meteorite ceramics aren’t polished enough to draw attention, but her evocations of an eclipse—puffs of spray paint around a black circle—are beatific in their simplicity.

The personal potential for healing the environment is given a moving poetic with Kiyomi Fukui’s Apologetic Garden: Write a note on a sheet of paper, put it in an envelope along with some seeds, and then bury it in a small triangular planter on the outside patio. Come back in a few weeks to see if anything has sprouted. Likewise, Michael Nannery’s Leaves Tell the Story of the Light is his sensitive pruning and care for a forgotten plant in the corner of the Center, bringing our consideration to something barely paid attention to. Chris Natrop’s stunning multimedia Halflight Candybowl Mashup in Gallery 1 is the most assured, the installation’s complexity in sharp contrast to other artists’ austerity. Colored lights reflect off ornate, painted, cut paper suspended from the ceiling, drifting gently just inches from the floor. Shadows are cast on filmed projections, the camera aimed at the sky and run through filters. The soundtrack of birds chirping is melodic and inviting, the warmth of the machinery giving the room a pleasant welcoming feel, reminding us of nature’s potential for paradise.

“Drawn From a Score” at Beall Center for Art + Technology, UC Irvine, Claire Trevor School of the Arts, 712 Arts Plaza, Irvine, (949) 824-6206; www.beallcenter.uci.edu/exhibitions. Open Mon.-Sat., noon-6 p.m. Through Feb. 25. Free.

“LAND” at Irvine Fine Arts Center, 14321 Yale Ave., Irvine, (949) 724-6880; www.cityofirvine.org/irvine-fine-arts-center/current-exhibitions. Open Mon.-Thurs., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sat., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Through March 10. Free.

 

Dave Barton has written for the OC Weekly for over twenty years, the last eight as their lead art critic. He has interviewed artists from punk rock photographer Edward Colver to monologist Mike Daisey, playwright Joe Penhall to culture jammer Ron English.

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