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Gallery Project works at "Imaging the Future"

by John Carlos Cantu


The Gallery Project’s “Imaging the Future” gives us a glimpse into what tomorrow may hold. And given this gallery’s history, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the future may well be (borrowing loosely from Arthur Stanley Eddington) not only as strange as it can be; it may well be stranger than we can think it will be.


As gallery co-directors Gloria Pritschet and Rocco DePietro say in their exhibition statement, “Questions about the future abound. Depending on one’s vision and vantage point, such questions may activate anxiety, fear, cynicism, and dark visions. Or they may mobilize a sense of hope and promise, idealism, and utopian imaginings.”

Like previously mounted Gallery Project exhibits, the display features a little bit of both anxiety and idealism. Challenging each contributing artist “to pose a question about the future and to image a response” the gallery does what it has always done best: Run the imaginative gamut from utopia to dystopia and back again.

Contributors include co-curators DePietro and Pritschet; and Heather Accurso, Peter Baker, Sarah Buckius, d’ann de Simone, Kristine Divine, Fred Dyer, John Ganis, Xia Gao, John Hart, Mark Hereld, Nicole Jacquard, Andrew Jones, Addie Langford, Lois Lovejoy, Paul Marquardt, Leslie Mutchler, Brian Nelson, Jordan Ross Patchak, Megan Reynard, David Rueter, Daniel Sauter, Bethany Shorb, Yvette Kaiser Smith, Alex Sobolev, Nick Sousanis, R. Justin Stewart, Corine Vermeulen, Valerie Wahna, and Michael Yun. Contributing organizations are Ann Arbor’s Basement6 and New York City’s Architecture Research Office.

What these artists, scientists, architects, engineers, and fashion designers have come up with is stuff of the fantastic. Using the gallery statement as a prompt, it shouldn’t be a surprise that display runs the range from the relatively mundane (“What’s going to happen to my town?”) to science fiction (“Will we have colonies in space or on distant planets and moons?”) to the metaphysical (“What will become of our species and other species as we evolve?”).

No matter. Ann Arbor should be well past the point of expecting anything less than the unexpected from the Gallery Project. Expanding the realms of art, “Imaging the Future” pushes past aesthetic boundaries most of us don’t even know exist.

Granted, some of these media at least appear relatively conventional. Detroit photographer Bethany Shorb’s vinyl giclée print on gatorfoam “Illustrated Language Primer—Tense: Future Perfect + Gender-Neutral Pronoun” is composed of three interlocking states of athletic motion; Chicago painter Nicole Gordon’s oil on canvas “Bedrock” is an ecological cautionary tale of science fiction proportions; and Detroit Corine Vermeulen’s color digital print “Rick” indicates the future may end up looking very much like it does in some quarters today.

Michigan State University Zoology chairman Fred Dyer, on the other hand, has contributed “Hive Mind/Hive Minds,” which uses the live growth of a bee hive as the ground of his gallery installation. Dryer’s artificial environment poses problems for his bees’ adaptation. But they’re thriving just fine; and presumably, it’s all about the same to them. All of which, in turn, raises the fascinating question of how aware we ourselves are of the adaptations we have to make to our environment.

Taking art from the micro-level to the gallery-level, Eastern Michigan University sculptor Brian Nelson has contributed a welded and fabricated steel “16 Year (Paroxetine Systemtic (IUPAC) name (3S-trans)-3-((1,3-Benzodioxol-5yloxy)methyl)-4-(4-flurophenly)-piperidine, [trade names Seroxat, Paxil, Parotin, Aropax, Xetanor, ParoMerck, Rexetin])” sculpture illustrating this serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressant organic compound. Easy for him to say; Nelson’s sculpture — looking everything like an exceedingly graceful oversize dumbbell lying on the floor — has a stolid black symmetry that makes it as powerful a biomorphic abstraction as it is the crucial ingredient for this psychotropic drug.

Working from the micro-level writ all, University of Michigan assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering John Hart’s “Examples of Nanotechnology: Morphology and Lithographs Catalyst Patterns, and Morphology” as well as electron micrographs “Support,” “Red Alert,” and “Nanoeden,” feature art on such a diminutive scale, the molecular level appears otherworldly. Like the science of nanotechnology itself, some of the art of the future will consist of matter measured to the billionth of a meter. Hart is merely working on the fringes of a scientific art that would have been incomprehensible a scant half-century ago.

Metalsmithing professor at Indiana University Nicole Jacquard has contributed one of the more intriguing forward looking artworks in “Imaging the Future.” Her wood, acrylic, steel, silver, porcelain, and grass “Greenhouse” installation straddles the fields of art and architecture, being a handsome architectural miniature (quite literally a three-dimensional architectural plan) as well as a free-standing four-foot tall sculpture. It has arched walls at each corner surrounding a field of grass constructed in the shape of a cross. And a set of ceramic leaves hanging from the bottom of the structure, lends “Greenhouse” an additional decorative affect. But its stunning construct is enough to make the work a fabulous architectural study that would be equally stunning as a finished endeavor.

The Gallery Project has used its basement space to mount highly ambitious installations. “Imaging the Future” features two of these installations. Ann Arborite Valerie Wahna’s foam core urban landscapes with digital prints features ten foam core neighborhoods that cast a green iridescent glow when the gallery lights are dimmed.

And Chicago residents Mark Hereld and Daniel Sauter has mounted a real-time “Emergent Project: Imaging the future, new Media Live Information Feed, Projected Single Channel” that broadcasts results drawn from the U.S. Patent Office through a trio of “idea clusters” projection units that are continuously interacting and evolving as they generate abstract patterns on a screen set against the Gallery Project basement wall.
But perhaps the most intriguing artwork on display in this exhibit is Ann Arbor resident David Rueter’s untitled software laptop computer in a picture frame scanning the world for digital security feeds. Rueter’s random visuals are as much a disconcerting marvel to observe as they are a clear reminder that among this century’s technological refinements may inevitably be the ability to survey others at the same time that they watch us. And that would be an imaging of the future, indeed.