Deadtech Review

Josh Bartos, Justin Rounds, Dmitry Strakovsky

(it originally appeared in the January/February issue of Dialogue)

November 10 - December 1

By Vittorio Carli

Deadtech is one of Chicago’s younger, artist-owned alternative spaces with a particular focus on breaking down the false academic separation between technology and art. The gallery’s most recent multiple performance event evocatively and unconventionally layers video, music, and sound. Comprising the event are video pieces by Josh Bartos and Justin Rounds, accompanied by a bizarre soundscape by Dmitry Strakovsky.

Bartos’ work, Telephot, combines the aesthetic sensibility of sculpture and video to emphasize a metaphorical Eden’s transformation into a cold, technological environment reminiscent of director Fritz Lang’s film, Metropolis. The artist’s sculptural background is apparent in his use of pedestals to display TVs showing six hours of landscape and industrial footage. The video blends diverse natural and urban images, including waves of splashing water, trees, a doorway, buildings, pipes, and hoses. Every once in a while, the artist’s face flashes briefly on the screen, recalling the quick edits of demonic imagery in the film, The Exorcist. This intermittent image is mysterious and unsettling, and works like a signature identifying the creator. The juxtaposition of stark industrial images and the natural landscape underscores the human estrangement from nature, and how the man-made landscape can appear to be a foreign and alienating terrain.

Echoing man’s role in altering his environment is Justin Rounds’ Ashram Meditation which uses an LCD (liquid crystal display) to project landscape images – such as bleak cemeteries and a Buddhist temple – from a computer onto the wall. Using his own computer code, Rounds programmed the LCD to arbitrarily layer geometric shapes on the landscapes. This creates a multitude of landscape/shape combinations with undetermined relationships.

The work evokes John Cage’s recording, Indeterminacy, in which Buddhist tales were matched with random noises, and listeners had to make their own connections. With Rounds’ work, there is a natural tendency for viewers to look for variations of geometric patterns in the temple and other images. Therefore, the piece challenges the audience to be attentive and active participants in constructing a unique environmental image that is a hybrid of representational and abstract projections. The result is the viewer’s heightened awareness of his or her effect on the surroundings.

This interaction is made more palpable in Dmitry Strakovsky’s piece, Sound Environment Study No. 2, which emits an irritating squeak, like a dying bird, triggered by the audience’s movements. This work perfectly illustrates John Cage’s dictum that nothing is boring provided you look at it long enough. There is also a similar cause-and-effect relationship between Strakovsky’s audio and Rounds’ projected images. A light sensor on the projector that sends out Rounds’ images also triggers Strakovsky’s sound. When there is more light, the strange bird-like noise is louder, when the screen is completely covered in shadow, the sound is almost audible. Strakovsky’s piece lends an eerie accompaniment to the other artist’s visual works, which is made all the more disturbing by each viewer’s involuntary participation in producing a sound they can’t quite identify. Is it man-made or natural? All the works effectively use technology to subvert the audience’s passive inclinations and provoke them to rethink their role in creating their environment.

Vittorio Carli is writing instructor at Columbia College and Moraine Valley Community College.

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