Times have changed a lot since Thoreau was thinking about man’s place in nature. He decided to drop out of the hectic 1840s, escaping social distractions and paying more attention to natural rhythms. I don’t think he’d be that impressed by Farmville or Pinterest; still, I think he might appreciate what ecoarttech is trying to do: speak to a digitally obsessed populace in their own language in order to tease them into paying closer attention to the natural world.
Ecoarttech sounds like a trendy locavore joint but is instead the code name for a collaboration started by two artists from Rochester: Leila Nadir and Cary Peppermint. The wilderness 24/7 installation they’ve placed inside Syracuse University’s downtown Warehouse Gallery dares us to wander into a thicket, both literally and figuratively. As you might guess from the duo’s nom de guerre, the work concerns the interplay between ecology and technology mediated by an artistic sensibility.
The gallery hasn’t exactly gone wild, but it has been converted into an urban campsite of sorts. A rugged three-man tent is pitched on some shipping palettes. Visitors are encouraged to relax and contemplate their surroundings on Adirondack chairs made from that same ubiquitous urban trash palette wood. Rocks ring a fire pit stacked with Mac minis, their cases even sporting little flame icons.
The campfire is more than a visual one-liner, however. All of ecoarttech’s projects to get you engaging with your environment are fueled by computers and the Internet. Not far from the fire are six logs, the sort good for splitting, standing on end in a small group. To each is attached a tiny digital component. No Lorax necessary: These trees speak for themselves. Get down close to one and it might assign you a mission. You’ll feel like Alice when that cake implores her to “Eat me.”
On expeditions like these participants (you can be one, too!) gather images, video clips and raw data for the collective to process into larger works. Watching one of these disjointed videos is like monitoring a bank of security cameras knocked out of kilter: Each is focused on something routinely ignored. Light filtering through brush, crumbling sidewalk and the geometric mess of a garbled signal all receive equal time.
Ecoarttech coordinates the effort with a free mobile phone
application called Indeterminate Hikes . The app uses GPS data to lead
users on a walking tour of unappreciated destinations and then issues
mystical instructions like: “Locate some dripping, flowing, trickling or
gushing water. Tell yourself: This is a flow of information. This is a
waterfall. This is a river. This is a small brook. This is a drought.
This is a flash flood. Take a picture.” Rather than pointing out
must-see landmarks and breathtaking vistas, this app aims to deepen your
recognition of where you already are.
Beauty and chaos coexist, wherever you are, which seems to be the message of a neat grid of manipulated prints on one wall. You could also say every environment is what we make of it. All the landscapes, whether of mountain ranges on the horizon or of highway signs, are reduced to jagged blocks of color with heavy-handed use of software special effects. This elevates the artistic quality of some images and ruins others, effectively equalizing the lot. Each is superimposed with nonsense words. One favorite composite shows “SWAMP DUCHAMP CALCULATOR” floating atop wind-carved desert rocks.
Another bunch of still images, this one a loose grouping hung salon-style, were gathered with a search engine. The pictures all show disasters, scenes where natural events interrupt human attempts at creating order. It looks like a growing body of evidence. Among the photos hangs a screen streaming a nightmare weather report folding in on itself like a kaleidoscope.
Escape around the corner to a raised rectangular Astroturf lily pad. You can sit cross-legged and monkey around with one of four tablets plugged in there. Cute little city scenes—animated stick-figure style—respond to your slightest touch: Tip the tablet this way and that to distort the perspective. Go too far, though, and everything falls apart into a pile of distended matchsticks; don’t worry, level it out and the original state returns. If only it were that easy in the real world.Ecoarttech: wilderness 24/7 will run until Feb. 9 at the Warehouse Gallery, 350 W. Fayette St. The gallery is open Tuesdays to Saturdays, noon to 6 p.m. Visit thewarehousegallery.org or call 443-6450.