Free Expression

‘Revolution in 8 Pieces’ explores the artistic tensions posed by our high-tech lives

Glenn W. Smith and Barbora BakalarovaPhoto by Bob Keefer.

The conflict between free will and stark determinism lies at the heart of an unusual new sculpture that will greet visitors to Eugene’s New Zone Gallery during the Sept. 2 First Friday ArtWalk.

“Revolution in 8 Pieces” is the result of a collaboration between kinetic artist Glenn W. Smith and photographer Barbora Bakalarova, both members of the community gallery. The free-standing floor piece consists of a vertical armature, about as tall as a person, around which rotate eight black and white photographs depicting a female nude, not quite life sized.

The display grows out of a single photo, taken of herself by Bakalarova, divided vertically into four panels that rotate in opposite directions around the armature. The other four panels are made from the first four images, but printed entirely out of focus.

As the eight pieces rotate, the image of the woman’s body snaps into and out of coherence with machinelike precision — because, of course, the whole thing is run by a machine.

Smith, the kinetic half of the collaboration, worked in the tech world in the 1990s creating the high-tech apparatus that allows the images to rotate on a precisely programmed schedule; the devices were used for corporate and retail displays. Now retired from the business, he managed to get a dozen or so of the armatures to make art with.

“They have been a happy hunting ground, so to speak,” he says during Eugene Weekly’s interview with the two artists at the gallery. The first of his experiments with kinetic art was shown at New Zone last year. “Cyberman 2021,” which used rotating reflective semicircular discs rather than photographs, went on to a five-month run in a show of kinetic art that just wrapped up in August at the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey.

Bakalarova, a native of Prague who has lived in the Pacific Northwest for more than 30 years, takes a more organic approach to her photography, which features abstracted landscapes and elaborately staged still lifes using layered colors applied to her prints.

Experimentation such as collaborating with a sculptor is a natural part of her art, she says — as is exploring the conceptual issues raised by high tech machinery. “We try to become aware that we are machines,” she says.”Becoming aware of one’s conditioning becomes a flicker of hope for some free will.”

The moving sculpture is accompanied by a recording of reflective piano music — Prelude in E Minor by Chopin — that softens the machined edges of the experience. Somehow, emerging from that programmed apparatus, both Smith and Bakalarova see a kind of freedom and hope.

“Although this is totally deterministic,” Smith says, “in the subtlety of the choreography you get a glimpse of” — and then he pauses.

“Of what?” Bakalarova asks.

“Of how sentience can grow out of determinism,” Smith finally says.

“This is just a beginning,” Bakalarova says.

The Lane County First Friday ArtWalk begins 5:30 pm Friday, Sept. 2; it’s a self-guided walking tour of downtown art galleries and venues, most of which stay open until 8 pm. Kicking off during the walk will be this year’s Fiesta Cultural, with festivities from 5:30 to 10 pm at the new Farmers Market Pavillion, 85 E. 8th Avenue.

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