Arts Desk

Reviewed: Emily Biondo and Bradford Barr at Flashpoint

FlashpointThe idea behind “Touch Me”—an installation by D.C. artist Emily Biondo and San Francisco software engineer Bradford Barr—is compelling.

The installation toys with the intersection of art, technology and interpersonal interactions, much like some of Biondo’s prior works, like an Arlington Arts Center piece that used crocheted speaker wire to give visitors a new version of the childhood game of “telephone.”

The Flashpoint installation, which takes up most of the available gallery space, is described as “an interactive light environment that is generated by the physical interactions of two people.” The walls are covered with plastic surfaces that suggest intertwined umbrellas, with white and blue lights flashing on and off beneath their transparent forms.

Wired gloves dangle from the ceiling, and when two people don gloves and touch, “the installation [begins] to glow, change and flash, immersing viewers in a lit geometric space built by their own touch.”

Sounds great. Except when I did it (um, yeah, by touching myself, which was the only option when I visited) it was hard to tell the difference between the sensory fireworks I triggered and the baseline level of flashing.

Maybe the effect would have been more impressive if the gallery had been buzzing with social activity. As it was, though, the installation offered a different, and worthwhile, lesson about our relationship with contemporary technology: Sometimes you don’t know if the problem is the fault of the technology, or you.

Through May 6 at Flashpoint Gallery, 916 G Street NW, Tue-Sat 12-6

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  • Margot Conover

    This review missed a key point of the exhibit - when you have a social interaction, you're never 100% sure you've really made a connection. If the lights were flashing crazily, that would detract from the metaphor of subtlety and interpretation that accompanies each social touch we give another person. Additionally, the longer you held the gloves together, the stronger the electronic response was. Again, metaphorically representing the way a sustained social connection produces more tangible and easily interpreted results. It's a shame the reviewer went alone and while other people weren't in the gallery. When I got there, a few people were there, and we had an excellent time experimenting with the results of different touches. It got worse when the gallery filled up with strangers all waiting in line, trying the connections, and growing impatient with the lack of instantaneous visible results. Think of every house party you've ever been to when you hope to meet a new friend or to find sparks of mutual attraction, but people keep drunkenly and clumsily bumping around and any potential nexus of humanity is lost in the chatter and thumping bass of a roommate's amateur DJing. The lesson isn't about technology, that's just the medium. It's about human relationships.

  • Louis Jacobson

    Margot, thanks for sharing your thoughts. That's a very interesting take on the exhibit.

  • Patricia Taddonio Steely

    Kudos to Ms. Conover for bringing attention to this important point. I too found this exhibit to be a powerful metaphor about human relationships. I can agree with the Reviewer on one point: It was compelling...very compelling!

    I attended the Opening Night with close to 100 people there and I felt the powerful social interactive energy in the room. However, I also had to screen out the chatter of distraction around me to focus on my communication with my husband while using the gloves (I used all three glove locations and it was interesting to note the differences in our response to the Installation depending on what glove we were using and what was going on around us.) My awareness bounced between focusing on my interaction with my husband as we touched using the gloves to looking at the lights for increased activity as a result of our touching. Made me think: What was more important in that present moment? The interaction with him or the effect of the interaction? What should I really be paying attention to? What was I missing in the moment of interaction with him while scanning the lights for increased activity? This also led me to questions about the role of technology: What are we missing in our present moment when we are sitting in a room full of people and everyone is on their devices? Parents sitting at the dinner table texting instead of talking to their children? Does technology connect us? Or disconnect us?

    The Installation also brilliantly spoke to me to the role of touch in human interaction on both a micro and macro level whether it be through technology such as texting, posting a message on Facebook, keyboarding a message such as this response to the Review, email, dialing a phone, or through direct tactile sensory contact with another person, animal, planet Earth, or yourself. On a micro level, the LED lights reminded me of the electrical impulses of brain dendrites that are stimulated and grow through the sustained impact of touch and human interaction (as a Developmental Educator, I am very aware of the importance of human interaction on brain development especially in the first year of life.) On the macro level, I was reminded of how our individual actions radiate out in concentric circles to touch others.

    Art means many things to different people. My favorite writer is Thomas Merton (a Spiritual Writer that practiced contemplative photography) and his view on art has always stayed with me: "Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time." This Installation did just that for me! It Touched Me! I lost myself in the compelling magnificence of it!

  • Louis Jacobson

    Thanks for sharing your experience with the exhibit, Patricia.