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Liminality at Antena Gallery

by Carrie McGath

Lover Man, Ben Chang

When Antena Galley owner, Miguel Cortez, told me about a Second Life virtual art show that would open on April 2, 2010, I knew I had to be at the opening to see how something this complex and radical would come into fruition. “Liminality”, curated by Patrick Lichty, a professor in the Interactive Art and Media Department at Columbia College, is a show that brims with sentiments of radical art-making akin to the radicalism of the Dadaist or Futurist movements of the early Twentieth Century. While obviously different from these movements in terms of Liminality’s medium of virtual worlds, the feel is similar in its playful treatment of the technology at our disposal, a radicalism that for these artists in the show occupies the same excitement as industrial motors did for Marinetti and the machine-inspired Futurists, and the societal radical comments of the Dadaists.

The word “liminality” is defined as relating to a transitional stage of a process, a stage that occupies a space at a boundary or threshold. The titling of the show further illustrates that the many artists in the show have taken a cue from this transitional stage, creating a whole new way of creating art in the Twenty-First Century. What surprised me was that it was not cold or clinical, but beautiful and poignant in its wavering between the real world and the virtual one. When entering the gallery, one sees and hears the affecting  piece by Ben Chang where two lovers in the virtual world correspond to one another. In this work, there is a juxtaposition between past technology and modern technology as the lovers are in the virtual world of Second Life, but there words are coming out in Morse code through a telegraph that hangs nearby.

Pieta Homage, Patrick Lichty & Gazira Babeli

The art historical Second Life work by curator and artist, Patrick Lichty and Milan-based artist, Gazira Babeli is an eye-catching part of the show. The piece is made up of twelve monitors that show what their avatars are doing when not being played. Patrick’s avatar, Man Machinaga and Gazira’s avatar, Gaz, are acting out art historical narratives while not being “played”. The avatars in this piece are in the virtual world, touched only by the real world in their allusions to artworks like Marina Abramović’s Pietà. The existential notions of the avatar versus the creator of the avatar are interesting aspects of the piece to ponder. Who is the individual in this instance? The avatars or the artists who created them? Or is it an unprecedented mixture of the two?

Joe deLappe’s golden sculpture of his Mahatma Gandhi avatar is on display in the Liminality show as well. This sculpture was created after deLappe’s 2008 Second Life piece that recreated Gandhi’s 240-mile Salt March that took place in 1930. deLappe inserted himself within his avatar’s experience when he used a treadmill to steer the virtual Gandhi.   This piece creates even more intriguing questions to a viewer since it is a re-enactment of Gandhi’s peaceful journey to protest Great Britain’s Salt Tax of the Indian people. This act of civil disobedience recreated in a virtual world would be ineffective and gimmicky if not for deLappe’s use of the treadmill. The artist’s act of walking the 240 miles to guide his avatar reiterates the sentiments of dedication that Gandhi possesses in his peaceful protestation of greed. The sculpture of the avatar is impressive in its careful rendering, and its placement within the gallery gives the sense that Gandhi is holding court among the radical works.

Gandhi Avatar Sculpture, Joe de Lappe

The Dream Umbrellas is a work by Patrick Lichty and Cao Fei (Fei is up for the Hugo Boss Prize this year) that exists in the Second Life world, but at Antena we see them as prints. The concept comes out of Fei’s creation of RMB City, a city in Second Life that is truly idyllic in its avant garde and creative activities. The Dream Umbrellas takes place in RMB City and the artists turn the utilitarian notions of an umbrella into something philosophical. The umbrella becomes something that contains and interacts, not something that shields and dispels. Inside of the umbrellas are dreams, dreams that belong to the artists as well as participants for the general public of RMB City. Dreams are chosen and then the umbrella is made from the dream. The concepts in the piece brings to mind the work of Surrealists, and the resulting worlds and environments of the umbrellas within RMB City brings to mind the work of Rene Magritte and Giorgio de Chirico.

The wall project at Antena, “Unconditional Love” by Jessica Westbrook and Adam Trowbridge fits well into the show with its interactive technology sharing the gallery wall. One can change the graphics in the piece by using a appropriated vintage video game controller. The buttons make the screen change, but always return to the sentiment of unconditional love. The piece gives encouragement to the viewer who interacts with it such as “You win,” an allusion no doubt to arcade games of yesteryear. There is a bit of a Jenny Holzer in the piece with deeper projections like, “We kiss new friends.” This piece lightens the load of the viewer as well. The mental strain (however delightful it is) in the Second Life part of the gallery needs something interactive like Westbrook and Trowbridge’s piece.

Telegraph, Ben Change

I was left with more questions than answers in leaving Antena that evening, but they were fascinating questions that such affecting art should manifest in a viewer. “Liminality” is truly a must-see show at Antena Gallery in Pilsen. Its inclusion, but not exclusive inclusion, of art historical and historical aspects of the real world in the virtual one lend a texture to this artwork that is glorious and mind-boggling to ponder.

The show is on view through May 1, 2010. Antena is located at 1765 South Laflin Street in Pilsen. Gallery hours are by appointment only and may be arranged by calling 773-257-3534. Be sure to also catch Antena at NEXT: The Invitational Exhibition of Emerging Art from April 30-May 3, 2010 at Merchandise Mart’s seventh floor. For more information on Antena, please visit www.antenapilsen.com.