Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Liz Phillips & Paula Rabinowitz Colloquia

On March 2nd, Liz Phillips (a New York based artist) and Professor Paula Rabinowitz of the University of Minnesota English department presented an exceptional and faithful variety of interactive art. Their initial appearance was rather startling. Strewn across the table before them was an excess of scattered miscellany. Despite the triviality of this random collection, the audience was eager to learn its purpose, and in turn, was impressed by its use. Phillips has carved out her own niche medium. In the face of her work being so elegant and masterful, her use of such elemental tools harks back to an understanding of art we all had as we smeared finger paint across our papers. On the table before the two women were items they used to demonstrate a speaker making technique. By attaching a node to objects like a metal bowl, or a large sheet of paper, Phillips and Rabinowitz were able to make active speakers. Phillips interestingly explains that the sounds you can extract from a bowl are best played back on a bowl, and likewise for almost any other matter. Within this vein, Phillips looks to incorporate her audience, especially on an aural level. Her words provide an apt explanation: “Usually in my sound installations, the presence and movement and/or absence and stillness of the audience determine the combination of the soundscape.”

Liz Phillips has been creating interactive art for nearly four decades, and during her presentation, she introduced the audience to her timeline of work. Her earliest example was very simple and direct; a sort of pad which translated human contact through electric signals as her friend Robert Kovich writhed and danced upon it, creating a quantity of correlating sounds. That simple model was the seed which would bloom into her artistic mission, both practically and technically. In 1988, Liz created “Graphite Ground”, an indoor rock garden with carefully placed copper boulders, which thanks to a high level of conductivity, allow the viewer to manipulate electromagnetic fields around the installation, creating a sound-shifting environment.

The duo featured several video clips of Phillips’ work in action, including a unique project involving a windmill in New York. The energy of the mill is used to process compost, but in addition to its primary purpose, the artist incorporated a sound device which plays music based on the wind speed and direction.

More recently, Phillips has bee working with more technologically complex ideas. In a 2004 work, “Echo-Location:Queens”, an audience activates video displayed within a weather balloon while sounds are played back through objects like bowls, vases and pipes as opposed to conventional speakers. The sound is augmented based on the participant’s movement.

During the presentation, Paula Rabinowitz added the valuable ingredient of context. She described the two vehicles of collaborative art; response and interactivity, the latter of which is the emphasis of Phillips work. This connection between the artist and the audience is non-denominational. Without a language or culture barrier, anyone is able to participate. This seems to be a common quality of new media. Phillips was very content in discussing this art she so obviously is passionate about, and Rabinowitz’ ability to point out how valuable these concepts are make this presentation nothing short of prolific for truly creative people.