Your Pretension is Writing Checks Your Art Can’t Cash

Tangible Weather Channel, 2005 Yu-Cheng Hsu

Collin Kelly

Tangible Weather Channel, 2005 Yu-Cheng Hsu

Colin Kelly

BY COLIN B. D. KELLY Staff Writer

Tired of cruising the MFA’s modern art room only to be disappointed time and time again by that tampon nailed down to an x-frame that your roommate described as “ground breaking?” Want to see something truly different, something that fits a definition of modern that means “contemporary” and not just 100 years ago? Then you’re in luck, my hypothetical little minx: the Boston Cyberarts Festival 2005 is in town. From April 22 through May 8 you can take a gander at the 70-plus exhibits going on in Boston and the surrounding area, exhibits that combine art from a vast array of mediums with 21st Century technology.

One exhibit of note is at the Genzyme Building in Kendall Square, Cambridge, featuring the graduate theses from students of the Rhode Island School of Design entitled Other Nature, and a new installation (considered the “centerpiece” of the Genzyme Building show) by Bill Seaman called The Thoughtbody Environment-an utter disappointment, despite the ample supply of California shiraz and brie ‘n’ crackers at the reception, but there’s just some things that not even free booze and food can make up for.

The Thoughtbody Environment sounded cool from the description I read on the Boston Cyberarts website: “The Thoughtbody Environment: Toward a Model for an Electrochemical Computer:” an installation that explores the question: To what degree can we model the processes that are at operation in the body that give rise to sentience? The installation will include a series of large-scale digital prints / diagrams, a poetic text, a video work, a new music work, and a didactic text.”

It sounds interesting right? Well, it ain’t. The piece consisted of two videos and three large-scale prints that attempt to explain whatever it is that Bill Seaman’s concocted. One of the panels was a prose poem that you’d have to be rip-roaring high to even be mildly interested in, and the others rambled on about something called N_S.E.N.T.I.E.N.T. Sounds cool, like something out of Bladerunner, right? Well, N_S.E.N.T.I.E.N.T. is an acronym for: Neo-sentient, Self-organizing, Environmentally embedded, Nascent, Temporal, Intra-active, Emergent, Navigational, Transdisciplinary. Still sound cool? Of course it doesn’t. This was more pretentious than three seasons of Frasier, Escargots Vol-au-Vent, and Jim Morrison’s poetry combined. The only thing in this exhibit [ion of unrestricted egotism] that resembles Art wih a capital ‘A’ is the two video installations: two separate projector screens at opposite ends of the room bombarded with a mixture of slow and fast motion close-ups of nature and everyday places and objects, shot in both diachrome and full blown color. These shots were accompanied by Brian Eno rip-off music, co-created by Bill Seaman as well, and barely audible voiceover mumblings (I think I heard the word “sentient” a few times). Aesthetically speaking, the shots are well composed, compelling, and abstract repeated images.

I’m not saying that Bill Seaman is a fraud; he definitely has a lot of thought in place behind his work, that, I do not doubt. His execution however, seems to lack a proportional amount of that thought. I openly admit that I am an uncouth American with only a limp grasp of philosophy, art history, and the manifold meretricious benefits of using the word “sentient” ad nauseam, so the genius of this work is probably beyond me. So after I’m done re-reading Gravity’s Rainbow and Being and Nothingness simultaneously, then maybe I’ll appreciate it in all its esoteric, specialized glory. But until then I stand by my presumptions that Thoughtbody Environment is over-thought pretentious crap.

On the flip side, Other Nature was very impressive. The RISD graduate theses were on display in a bare room surrounded on almost all sides by floor-to-ceiling glass, the latter dotted with Giclée prints from Jennifer McChesney’s Wayward Lulls piece; various close-ups of moments in nature captured in glorious color, ranging from the abstract to the surreal and back again, with a color scheme beautifully restricted to hues of green and blue that work to great effect.

Another noteworthy piece is Tangible Weather Channel by Yu-Cheng Hsu. With his piece, Yu-Cheng attempts to create a tangible link between people and distant loved ones through weather. As Mr. Yu-Cheng explained to me, the piece is simple: on a touch screen, you enter the location of a loved one (zip code, state, city, country, etc.) and with the aide of an antique fan, a water valve, and the Internet, Tangible Weather Channel recreates the weather your loved one is experiencing at that moment. If there’s a northern wind, the fan activates and oscillates to face south. If it’s raining, water drips from a valve into a translucent vessel, at the base of which will appear the name of your loved one’s current geographic location. However, the Internet was not working when I attended the exhibit so I was not able to see it in action. But, by the time this hits the stands Tangible Weather Channel should be fully operational. I suggest you go check it out. I know I will.

The Genzyme Building is at 500 Kendall Street, off of Third Street in Kendall Square. Just take the Red Line to Kendall, get off and walk through the Marriott lobby, take a right on Broadway then a left onto Third Street and you’ll see the Cyberarts sign on your right.

For more information of the Boston Cyberarts Festival 2005 go to