“Artist Talk” doesn’t quite sum up the creative and thought-provoking presentation Professor of Art Claudia Esslinger gave last Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Community Foundation Theater on her new Gund Gallery installation piece called Host. The piece uses custom-programmed digital media and video layering to show the interaction of technology and the environment.
Esslinger’s installation gives off an ethereal vibe, and there’s a sort of spirituality that comes with her technique of video layering. “We didn’t want the technology to overcome it though,” Esslinger said. “I think we reached a pretty good balance of having a spirit to it, an ethos, and maybe a mystery to it — not just science and technology.” Indeed, when walking through the exhibit, it almost feels as if it’s living and breathing. This artistic choice poignantly attacks the supposed tension between the way we interact with the natural world and the way we interact with technology. We often believe that technology and nature come from completely different realms and they cannot be reconciled with one another. Esslinger’s piece suggests, however, that perhaps this is not the case.
Esslinger worked collaboratively on this project with Tom Giblin, associate professor of physics, and Ross Feller, assistant professor of music. Giblin programmed a majority of the piece, according to Esslinger, who said he had once told her he believed that “programming is just like painting,” in the sense that it takes a lot of creative effort.
Esslinger’s inspiration for Host came from many places, including her ideals, her collaborators’ ideals and physical material. However, she also incorporated her previous experience as an artist in a new way. “In my past, as an artist, I was a printmaker first,” she said. “Printmakers layer images; very often it’s more than one image. … I do the same thing with video, and they play against each other.” At the presentation, she revealed why she chose to move onto video as opposed to continuing with printmaking, she said, “I see it as a natural transition to use the technology of the age.”
The talk itself was more of a performance piece accompanying her installation, which perfectly paralleled her ideals and the tone of her art. “I’m not someone who likes to be explicit or political [in their art] but there are of course implications,” she said. “I’m very interested in being a little bit more ambiguous, a little bit more suggestive.”
For the duration of the presentation, Esslinger showed a video which used techniques similar to the video layering seen in the installation. The ethereal music, and Esslinger’s voiced-over poetry and prose-like speech, made the film a spiritual experience similar to her installation. One part that particularly stuck out was video footage of a forest with foreign and exotic plant life. Layered over those images was a businessman with a tape measure and ruler trying to measure out the lengths of leaves and such. This effect seemed to grasp the strangeness of our natural environment when juxtaposed with technology. Every image that flashed on the screen made the viewer think. By the end, I was surprised to find that even though the video footage lasted about a half hour, I felt as if I had only been sitting in the Gund Gallery’s Community Foundation Theater for five minutes. “It was unusual, unlike anything I’d ever experienced before,” Addy Wagner ’18 said. The film was truly an original and unusual way to present these ideas, but it was effective, provocative, and made for an overall enjoyable and thoughtful experience.
As an attendee, the presentation left me feeling haunted and questioning life around me for the rest of the evening, wondering how I connect technology to my life and how every element of my life seemingly intertwines.