On a recent Saturday afternoon, visitors sat mesmerized by a piece of art at the Joslyn Art Museum.
They weren't staring at a photograph, a painting or a sculpture.
They were staring at a projection of a swirling, undulating mass of botanicals that covered an entire gallery wall.
A group of four little girls got close to the piece, a computer-generated image called “Madame Curie” by artist Jennifer Steinkamp, until they saw their own small black shadows. Their hands busily created animal shapes in the light.
Art that uses technology rather than paint or clay can be found at several locations in Omaha right now.
“Madame Curie” is the first show of its kind to open at Joslyn, said Karin Campbell, the museum's contemporary curator.
This weekend, Opera Omaha opens a production of “The Magic Flute” designed by artist Jun Kaneko that uses digital animated projections for the entire length of the show, something never done before.
“The Magic Flute” is the artist's third opera and his first to use projection instead of traditional sets. He used some projection in productions of “Madama Butterfly” and “Fidelio,” but not to this extent. Clark Creative turned hundreds of Kaneko's drawings into moving images for the opera, then animated them.
And a show commissioned by the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, on display there through mid-March, includes work from San Francisco-based video artist Nate Boyce. The show is his first major solo exhibition in the U.S. He films abstract plaster objects in motion and uses 3-D software to make them look suspended in mid-air, where they swirl and turn in endless loops and flips on high-definition video screens.
“With digital art, it's not 'I've seen one of these, I've seen them all,'” Campbell said. “The experience can be different each time. People really get a sense of the new.”
Campbell said “Madame Curie” is not going to be the last video piece to be on display at the museum. Since Joslyn installed the piece, she said visitorship has “skyrocketed.”
“People aren't used to seeing a piece like this at Joslyn,” she said.
Steinkamp created a multi-channel, synchronized video work that is inspired by her research into scientist Marie Curie. Though Curie is best known for receiving two Nobel Prizes, she was also an avid gardener. Steinkamp chose plants from a list of those the scientist grew and, using a complicated computer algorithm, made a swirling, undulating mass of apple blossoms, daisies, fuschia, periwinkle, rambler rose, Virginia creeper, and wisteria, among others.
The work was originally commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, and Joslyn is showing it in a three-channel format for the first time since its original installation. The Joslyn's exhibition is about half the size of the one in San Diego, which filled nearly an entire room with projections.
Omaha artist Tim Guthrie has used video and new media in many of his exhibitions. A professor of graphic design and new media at Creighton University, last summer he went to the Sorbonne in Paris to exhibit work and was a panelist on experimental video.
“I think motion is a huge part of why video art is becoming more mainstream,” he said. “And artists are getting more creative with how they use it.”
Guthrie could be included in that summation. His 2010 work, “Flow,” is a reflection on BP's attempt to control the media coverage of the Deep Horizon oil spill. The piece used digital projection of footage from BP live web feeds and news reports from television and the Internet. The projection shone through an eight-by-16-foot screen that altered and pixellated the video, which was visible from both the front and back.
His 2011 show, “Extraordinary Rendition,” was a collaboration with performance artist Doug Hayko at the Bemis Underground. The show had surveillance monitors that recorded the reactions of viewers in the space and a large-scale video projection in the middle of the gallery that showed a plane circling over the Omaha skyline.
A new exhibition he's planning will also use new media and projection.
Guthrie said the Internet is a big reason why the public now accepts video art more than it did 20 years ago.
“There aren't many filters to stop the creative process,” he said. “YouTube makes video art more available. Before that, in order to see a video art installation on the side of a building or in a gallery, you had to be there in person. Now you can watch it online.”
For Guthrie, it's exciting to see Omaha galleries and performing arts organizations bringing new media to Omaha audiences. That means new questions to tackle: How does someone buy a piece of video art? How much should it cost? And how should they display it?
Those are things Guthrie is still figuring out, but he compared the place new media art is in now to the early days of photography, before the medium had become respected and accepted.
“I didn't see myself ever doing video art,” Guthrie said. “But the concepts I wanted to explore required it. And now the interactive parts of projection and new media are taking over. It's more intriguing than ever.”
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