Arts Desk

Data/Fields at Artisphere: A Celebration of Synesthesia

A tip for visitors to "Data/Fields," a new exhibit at Artisphere: The Mark Fell piece, "Tone Pattern Transactuality," does not respond to movement. I looked like a fool dancing in front of the projection screen in an attempt to change the pitch of the mosquito swarm buzzing through my headphones. The curator, Richard Chartier, gently informed me that, while the piece is interactive, it involves the listener/viewer in subtler ways.

Apparently a computer program translates the screen's glowing circles into a mosquito buzz. The interactive part comes when your brain tunes into obvious auditory changes and projects them onto the imperceptibly changing circles. "You think it's changing because your hearing is much more acute than your vision," Chartier explained.

I don't know if that's true, but the longer I stared at the circle and its auras, the more it seemed to shift color and shape—as much the result of my eyes' rods and cones burning out as the mosquito accompaniment, I'd venture.

Perceptual mechanics aside, "Tone Pattern Transactuality"—like all the pieces in "Data/Fields"—invites visitors to listen to, rather than just look at, drawings, sculptures, and other visual art.

Caleb Coppock's piece, "Graphite Sequencer," makes the most literal link between vision and sound. Visitors can literally play his pencil drawings on a special turntable. If you were wondering, an elegant tree-and-branch drawing translates to noise like a radio transmission from outer space. A bar-code-like drawing sounds like a typewriter, and a series of Mondrian-esque lines produces accelerating bursts of static.

My favorite piece in the room, a work by Ryoji Ikeda called "data-scan," consists of a horizontal screen that projects a series of three, increasingly abstract versions of the same information—something about the positions of the stars in the galaxy relative to the human body, according to Chartier. If that isn't clear, don't worry. You're not really supposed to locate Alpha Centauri as the computer quickly targets stars in the night sky. Rather, the piece mines data for its aesthetic, not informational value. That becomes increasingly clear as the display shifts to rows of lines and shapes moving at different speeds (it looks a lot like Frogger traffic), and, finally, a screen that appears to be television "snow," but turns out to be a matrix of quickly changing numbers. It's unintelligible, but our minds are meaning-making machines, and if you spend long enough with it, you begin to hear the music of the universe.

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  • Ronaldo Dolle

    I visited on Saturday and I have to say this "review" doesn't do this beautifully considered exhibit any justice at all. (the review sounds like a facebook post). From reading the materials and text at the show its easy to see that this exhibit has nothing to do with synaesthesia. Its really unlike anything i have seen in DC. This is the first time any of these artists have exhibited in a gallery in the DC area. I am especially excited to experience an artist like Ryoji Ikeda in my backyard. I have been telling people since I visited "this is a must see show!"

  • Robert

    This review is this most ridiculous thing I have read in a very long time. It literally insults this incredible exhibit due to a complete lack of understanding of the viewer was actually seeing. The subtle sophistication of this collection and of the individual choices made by the artist is washed over in silly references and banal associations. I excpect more, much more from the City Paper. The author clearly does not have the bare minimum of understanding of what she was seeing or even where she was. I am, frankly, appalled and I hope the readers of this piece still decide to see this show. It is a rarity for Washington to have a show with this level of sophistication, taste, dignity, and beauty. For shame City Paper, for shame.