Technology has played an integral role in art-making since humans started making art. Whether it be the development of pottery and glazes, or the multiple different ways of painting and making paint, technology and our ability as a species to learn and grow has long informed the artist’s studio.
With the development of film and television, the way in which we can interface with the theater has greatly changed. No longer are we required to venture out to see a show, unless we want to. With the internet and home theaters being commonplace, our ways of digesting the theatrical arts have been enhanced. Often they're a literal extension of our bodies and hands, as we watch what was traditional television on our phones or laptop computers.
Synthesizing all of the ways we interact with the theatrical and visual arts into something tangible is worth noting. Presenting it in a way that bridges the traditional gallery or museum setting so it sets its own direction, or points to a possible future for art, is exciting.
"Brian Bress: Pictures Become You" at the Akron Art Museum is an exhibit of about a dozen framed high-definition monitors and players that display video. They blur the lines between painting, sculpture, collage, drawing, storytelling and theater in way that is vibrantly colorful, often humorous and quite simply intriguing to look at.
Taking a page from surrealists like René Magritte, Bress presents what is often a formal painterly or photographic image, then uses human-like characters to cut, shape and change what is on the screen. It’s a visually engaging approach that utilizes the enhancements in technology and the development of reasonably lightweight and reliable high definition monitors. The colors and the imagery being used inside a framed box that feels like something we might have at home enhances the surreal nature of the work and offers a doorway to a connection with the artist and what he is making.
"Mountain Man" opens with photographic image of a mountainscape, then a character dressed in a striped outfit with a striped box for a head proceeds to cut out a profile of man in a hat that looks like something out of the 1950s. Behind the character is a striped background of similar pattern. The character has a “puppet-like” quality, as do all of the characters featured in the works; this makes them feel familiar and adds to the absurdist feel as the “people” go about doing something to the composition itself. In the case of "Mountain Man," the landscape, the box-headed character and the cutout profile creates a visual narrative that, while familiar on one level, is also ineffable.
"Stillife" features a plainly clothed character with a circular Brancusi-esque face. The character is sitting in front of a gridded background, and the entire composition is theatrically lit so the colors go in a gradient from orange to blue or blue to orange. I did not sit through the entire 18-minute, 25-second video. However, for the several minutes I did see, I noticed that the character was moving ever so slightly, just like a person normally would who might be trying to sit as still as possible for a long period of time.
A still life is a common tool used to teach drawing or painting, and a traditional, formal way an artist can investigate form and color. This work investigates color and shape, and also creates a narrative and a tension in a way that only theater can by already having created an expectation for movement with his other works. It would be interesting if students came to draw the piece or photograph it for further study, and somehow integrated "Stillife" into something of their own, thus pushing traditional art-making boundaries even further.
"Chefs #4 (on green, violet and pink waves)" features three screens. Inside each screen is a character dressed as a chef, standing in front of a wavy lined white and green, white and violet or white and pink background depending on the screen. The chefs draw onto their particular screen with dry erase markers and then erase what they have drawn. Like the rest of the works featured in the show, the traditional portrait is pushed and changed by the chefs' performing this type of action.
While these pieces have a clear sense of humor, that does not mean they should not be taken seriously. Rather, the ideas of time, impermanence and the playing with formal elements we have long come to accept is quite important. We live in an age full of “stuff,” and Bress’ work plays with how we interact with our world and highlights the impermanence of the objects we often value.
Further, it shows how far technology and its now commonplace elements have come. It is the use of this everyday technology that sets Brian Bress and his work apart, starting us on a new conversation about how might make art in the future.
Contact Anderson Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org.