the medium of light

I always enjoy introducing students to the dynamic Japanese Gutai movement of wild performances and experimental social interventions.  The other day at the San Jose Museum of Art I was reminded of the sheer resonant beauty of Atsuko Tanaka’s Electric Dress from 1956 by looking at Leo Villareal’s work from 2010.

Leo Villareal – now featured at the SJMA in a rhythmic homage to technology and light as mediums – says many different things about his work than Tanaka, and the technology is much advanced from the 50s. But the installation made me think of Tanaka because I have always interpreted her work through somewhat of a feminist lens – it is clothing, after all. Clothing the confines, manipulates the body, and is even somewhat dangerous. Etc, etc…

Anyway – I thought of Tanaka because Villareal’s work – while spectacular – exudes a certain muscle-y masculinity (machismo?) that I didn’t expect to find in an exhibition where light replaces paint and motherboards replace canvas. His light sculptures and “paintings” originated as curiosities at Burning Man events (!) – not necessarily a testosterone fest, but still, I don’t know why I felt as though the work was so….gendered. There is an aloofness to it; it is monumental in scope and theme (using technology not only as a tool but also as subject matter and muse)  – viewers even look like little inconsequential dwarfs next to the work; and it is a little painful to look at some of it (think of trying to gaze dispassionately at a throbbing strobe light). I suppose these things came together in my mind as a flexed bicep.

As a brilliant spectacle of art as technology/technology as art, Villareal is at the pinnacle of his game; his work is stunning to experience and let wash over you like a tidal wave of whiteness. Tenaka’s dress, on the other hand, creeps into your heart slowly and persistently, like a smoldering ember that refuses to die.

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About shinyartshinyart

KKP is CEO and Founder of ShinyArt - a company designed to transform dull HD flat screens into canvases for some of the world’s most compelling moving art. She is also an art historian and adjunct professor at several schools in the Bay Area.
This entry was posted in artists, electronic, exhibitions, institutions, light, technology, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to the medium of light

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention the medium of light | it's a shiny, shiny world -- Topsy.com

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