TRANSFLUX at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts – review by Michal Gavish

TRANSFLUX at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts,
Gene A. Felice II, Nathaniel Ober, and Eve Warnock; curator: Katya Min.
Review By Michal Gavish

TRANSFLUX is a multi-media interactive exhibition at the San Francisco Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, YBCA, curated by Katya Min. Gene A. Felice II, Nathaniel Ober and Eve Warnock. It turns the Front-Door Gallery into an interactive demonstration of natural systems. Each work uses technology to present an interactive model of a basic natural cycle, from the intimate repetition of our heartbeats, to larger environmental cycles, and to the perpetual revolution of the solar systems.

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Eve Warnock and her life-partner Pelham Johnston created VESSEL, an interactive  circulatory mechanism that follows the audience’s heart beat. The biometric information is transmitted to a hydraulic pump, releasing water through transparent surgical tubes. The viewers can then visually follow the resonance of their own heartbeats through the water path listen as it drops with a sound onto a hand-made steel drum. The viewers try to influence the rhythm of the mechanical installation by controlling their pulse, becoming aware of its connection to their emotional state.

Warnock described the piece as romantic, saying that it uses mechanical language to reflect on the heart. She describes the piece as aiming for beauty through structure that enwraps the audience as they listen to the echo of their own heartbeat. She associates the sound of water hitting the metal drum is ritualistic and associates with the idea of an ancient container or watering hole as a gathering mark for animals and life. The artist feels that the perpetual pulsating circulation is romantic. The mechanical expression of our heartbeat is exciting and magical and also humbling and speaks of love.

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COACTIVE SYSTEMS is a collaborative project from Coaction Lab, where Gene A. Felice II in collaboration with David Kant, Tina Matthews and Nathan Ober display an independent environmental demo-system that uses plankton-based biosensors to monitor carbon dioxide and particulates in the ambient air. The installation is intended as a bimodal experience where the viewer is invited to trigger atmospheric changes or to observe it passively.

Felice explains that this interdisciplinary work uses scientific vocabulary as the basis for a conceptual art project touching on concepts such as bio- and ecological art. The contribution of the artistic perspective here is that not being constrained by the need to produce any concrete scientific results or conclusions, the artists felt daring and displayed an installation meant to trigger the viewer to contemplate on the connections between bio-art and the environment.

The ORRERY HARP is inspired by recent NASA projects in which sound waves were applied to measuring universal distances. Nathan Ober built on the idea of hearing the universe through scientific measurements. The Orrery is an antiquated mechanical device, invented during the age of enlightenment to demonstrate the motion of our solar system. In his piece, Ober transforms the device from visual to sonic space, demonstrating the solar revolutions through sound. His harp is an autonomous wooden stringed instrument, which is activated electronically to produce autonomous sounds related to the rhythm of the solar revolutions.

Ober made the entire wooden harp by hand, from the sound box to the electronic circuits. He taught himself to laser-cut wood and built the sound box while basing the mechanism on old musical instruments that he brought from India and Sri Lanka. In our conversation, Ober says that the choice of a technology-based project facilitates reaching to the audience by clarifying the artist’s unique perception of reality in concrete terms. He explains that the connection between art and science has existed in Ancient Greek culture and through the Renaissance and this project tries to rejoin these two areas that were only recently separated.

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The TRANSFLUX exhibition at YBCA is an interactive search for our abilities to influence natural mechanisms. The momentary influence of the viewers on their own heart rate or on the particulate level in the room, suggest contemplating on personal or environmental changes. These changes are impossible for the larger solar systems, which are beyond out control. The three installations use these scientific contemplations as a conceptual basis for making art and technology as their mode of production. Yet, while they may all be classified under these categories, their artistic approach is very different. A closer examination reveals three completely different modes of practice. Those range from the bare conceptual COACTIVE SYSTEMS, to the artistic rendering of biological systems in VESSELS and to the ORRERY HARP, which transforms the scientific concept into an artistic space.

The exhibition is at

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
Through April 12 2015.




Alicia McCarthy: New Paintings

Alicia McCarthy:  New Paintings

by Michal Gavish

Geometry has become the latest wave of abstract art to overtake the Oakland art scene. This summer, several galleries are exhibiting shows ranging from contemplative poetic geometries to sharp and mechanical op art. Of these, the new, unassuming paintings by Alicia McCarthy at Johansson Projects are outstanding. In this new, mixed-media series on found wooden panels, she transforms her temperate punk symbols into a new, formal language.

McCarthy has been painting in Oakland since the 1990s as an integrative part of the Mission School Tradition. She has had six solo shows with Jack Hanley in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, where she exhibited punk-painting installations. In her recent project she maintains her spontaneous aesthetic of vivid colors, while arresting them in geometric grids. However, her lines are not perfectly rigid, as they are drawn by hand, without the aid of any guidance tools or rulers.

Michal Gavish McCarthy1 Johanesson sEven McCarthy’s black and white pieces release an iridescent glow that suggests a vivacious undertone. In the first – Untitled (1) – two stylistically different panels hang adjacent to each other. The left-hand panel displays a single word, which pops out against a dark background. The second panel displays a painted latticework, which suggests a carefully worked, woven structure. The striking presentation of a calligraphic text besides the separate image of an obviously hand-made pattern extends the work beyond the Mission School aesthetic into a wider, art-historical context, evoking the form of ancient manuscripts.

Michal Gavish McCarthy JOhanesson 2 sIn other works, McCarthy confines her patterns to partial areas of the panels. This constriction turns the patterned sections into awkward objects that stand out from the simple ground. The object in Untitled (2) is a strange, checkered pattern, corralled by a lopsided triangle at the panel’s center. In Outside/Inside, McCarthy creates a similar oddity, drawing in pencil and house paint a hive constructed from piled rectangular cells. Most of the panel, however, is left empty, resulting in a strange architecture that appears to grow from the bottom edge in a geometric mass of neatly arranged cells against a rich, greenish background.

The magic in McCarthy’s new works lies in their suspension between the scientific and the handmade. These original pieces show an artist mediating between these two poles. By using her grid as a direction rather than a constraint, her slightly meandering but confident contours become organic and genuine while maintaining the purpose of creating geometries. With her approximated straight lines, she redirects her gentle punk and gives it new frame and formal content.

Among the many abstract-geometrical interpretations now on exhibit in Oakland, McCarthy’s contemplative shapes stand out in the handcrafted and irregular layouts of their invented geometries.


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Amy Ellingson: Iterations and Assertions

Iterations and Assertions

by Michal Gavish

Following the opening of Amy Ellingson’s new exhibit, Iterations and Assertions, at the San Jose Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA), the San Francisco-based abstract artist gave an eloquent talk describing her work. Walking in the gallery, the viewer is struck by a collection of bold shapes and colors jutting from around the room. Already known for her paintings based on computer-generated graphics, Ellingson impressively extends her practice to include three-dimensional sculptures and a monochromatic mural.Michal Gavish Amy 1

She begins by describing her complex painting process. A laptop serves as her sketchbook as she shapes and distorts colorful geometric fragments. The pieces are then manipulated and compiled, resulting in a multi-layered composition. Finally, she reproduces the digital image by laboriously painting it, layer by layer, in oil and encaustic onto the panels.

With her new exhibition at the ICA, Ellingson describes the opportunity to move beyond her established painting repertoire. She recreates her myriad painted fragments as 17,000 individual encaustic pieces and places them on a long pedestal parallel to the panels. The three-dimensional pieces appear extracted from the painting, creating an impression of color transforming into substance.Michal Gavish Amy 2

On the opposite wall, a monochromatic mural of similar dimensions halts this celebration of shapes and colors. Grayish, pixilated lines contour throughout the expansive, bare mural. Echoing the painted panel and sculptural installation, Ellingson describes how they are intended to imply a sculptural grid. Stripped of color and shape, the mural suggests a simple, authentic essence to the variegated exhibit.
Examining the length and details of the installation inspires a contemplative interpretation, which is especially powerful in the parallel setting. Ellingson’s iterations of her abstract elements cover a large range. In her sculpture she renders her abstract color elements three-dimensional while in her mural she completely eliminates her color into a system of contoured lines. This inspires associations ranging from archaeological findings to topological mappings. Walking along these three works, the viewer surveys the colors and shapes, weighing their dimensionality against their linearity as if moving along on a conveyor belt, taking in the marvelous procession of this multitude.Michal Gavish Amy 3


On view Jun. 7 – Sep. 13, 2014

at the San Jose Institute for Contemporary Art

560 South First Street San Jose, CA 95113