You look mahvelous: Natalia Mount of the Redhouse primps in front of the restroom mirror that provides instant feedback. (Michael Davis photo)
The Armory Square art house’s newest installation, From the Bottom of My Heart, is an interactive creation by artist Matthew Gehring that uses ultrasonic sensors to detect someone standing in front of the restroom mirror. The sonar gadgets look like a high-tech fire alarm and will probably go unnoticed until activated. Then one of six audio pastiches will issue compliments in a seductive voice, such as, “Tell me, how much time does it take you to look that good?” while funky instrumental blue-movie music plays. A male voice talks to the women, while the voice of an Australian gal clasps the attention of the male members.
“It’s about self-confidence, vanity and questioning oneself,” said Natalia Mount, executive director of the Redhouse, who helped commission the project. “We think it is engaging in many ways of what it is trying to tell you, like any art, but loaded with many personal connotations common to most people.”
Gehring believes that all art represents some aspect of desire and hopes this installation causes people to question their ideals of beauty. “My intent is that these works provide a seductive visual experience and intellectual engagement through open-ended sociocultural references that speak directly about desire,” he said. “I hope that each audience member responds by issuing laughter, smiles and curled lips in amusement.”
Originally, Redhouse staff talked about placing the mirrors in the lobby, but Gehring suggested its current commode location because it is the most common place people primp themselves. “We immediately thought it’d be fitting for the idea behind his piece,” she continued. “He chose the best spot, which we thought was kind of crazy at first, but then it worked. A few people have said they were appalled by it and some people are curious, but most people stay for the whole sequence because they loved it so much.”
Since all of the compliments are artificial and seemingly void of any real meaning, it reminds folks of how ridiculously serious they take themselves. “The great thing about it is the title,” said Mount. “It suggests how he tries to present the effects of desire and empowerment of oneself, and how people think about and compliment you, and how you think about yourself.”
The project will be permanent, so if you’re curious to see or have the poon or wang blues, the Redhouse’s restroom mirrors are sensitized to hit on you anytime during gallery hours, Wednesdays through Fridays from noon to 5 p.m.; by appointment; or during any special event staged at the building.