Back to the (digital) future

Digital Abstraction at DVAC

By Joyell Nevins

Photo: The late Jud Yalkut, original curator/idealist behind both the Computer Art (1993) and Digital Abstraction (2015) exhibits

1993: a time before smart phones, Google and Twitter. A time when you could still put 35 mm film in a camera. And the time for Computer Art: An Ohio Perspective, a digital art collection exhibited at Dayton Visual Arts Center (DVAC) and co-curated by Jud Yalkut and Tom Baggs.

Twenty years later, in 2013, the pair approached DVAC again about doing another digital art exhibit, this time called Digital Abstraction. The conclusion? A lot has changed in art and technology over the last two decades.

“It’s like we’re going ‘back to the future,’” Baggs said. “I put myself back then, and look where we are today … In 1993, you had to be dedicated [to use digital tools]. It was not very popular or easy to have access.”

Now, Baggs said, technology is readily available. Artists have access to tools they can purchase easily in person or obtain over the Internet. He noted artists have benefited from the commercialization of digital technologies through computers, software, video editing and production tools, printers, service bureaus, book publishing, cell phones and social media.

The first Computer Art exhibit pulled more than 50 artists in a huge scale of what was available. This time around, Baggs and Yalkut brought together 12 artists (11 of whom were in the original show) and kept it simpler. The works are shown on fabric, print, clay and the glowing screens of computer monitors.

“The artists in Digital Abstraction create and manipulate data just as a painter might mix paint on a canvas,” Baggs said. “If painters are inspired by the world around them, so are the digital artists.”

Baggs said he, Jim Shupert, Lisa and Benjamin Britton, Netta Bits (a.k.a. Digital Abstraction co-curator Tess Cortes), Andy Snow and Nancy Willman all incorporate some aspect of the “seen” world in their “unseen,” non-objective or random realities.

Lisa Britton produced a series of photographs, Gaudi’s Dream, which she said is about an invisible force that extends between nature and inspiration.

“These photographs are a manifestation of a dream and my initial desire to express Kami, the spirit in the natural world,” she said.

Andy Snow uses a digital pinhole camera, which he said eschews the glass of a lens and inserts glass back into the light reception equation.

“A digital pinhole camera affords the opportunity to create new imagery both before and after the sensor receives the energy of light,” Snow explained.

Nancy Willman’s photographs endeavor to incorporate the texture of its subjects and come from her avid travels.

“I am drawn to textures, the temporary two-dimensional surfaces that shift in the light to reveal new hues, new shades and new palettes,” she said. “Like cuisine, light and texture is different the world over.”

Shupert’s images come from constructions of stacked stones, hand-sized “temples,” that he has sampled via digital photography. He said he further organizes the image with patterns, shapes, colors, and volumes “arranged in accordance with the mathematical rules of the natural world.”

Artists McCrystle Wood and Wynne Ragland, Jr., Baggs noted, take the unseen experience and create realities of reference, challenging us to find a place in our minds where the unseen seems familiar.

“Your mind looks on it and it sort of feels normal, but it’s not,” Baggs explained.

Ragland remarked his own images are actually a return to the work he was creating during the first exhibition 20 years ago.

“[Dr. Seuss’] ‘Think and wonder, wonder and think’ was one of the quotes of the ‘Paint Box’ era,” Ragland said. “Today the digital medium allows the artist access to the time when the work was fun.”

Wood’s work is three-dimensional modeling, built with wireframe, vector-based objects. The works in Digital Abstraction are part of a larger series called Jardin Femme, which translates to “Garden Woman.”

“The female form is combined with other elements to explore concepts of identity, and to interpret and retell the life journey,” Wood said.

Ansen Seale, the only new artist in the exhibit, actually invented the slit scan camera technology he uses for his work. It takes a picture over a period of time instead of a split second snapshot.

“The horizontal axis of the image is rendered as a time exposure,” Seale explained. “A single sliver of space is imaged over an extended period of time, with moving objects inserting themselves into the data stream at different speeds and directions. Counter to the classical rules of photography, still objects are blurred and subjects in motion are rendered clearly.”

The moving digital image will be represented by the digital videos (some with sound, some not) of Netta Bits with her evocative landscape juxtapositions and abstractions.

“I document immediate and familiar surroundings and create an abstracted sense of the environment using manipulated digital video, sound and installation,” Bits explained.

Walter Wright shares his experiences in the digital video “Riverwalk.” Wright was one of the first video animators, with his work receiving awards as early as 1971. He said his focus is on “improvisation as a way of being present in the world.”

Other film and media mythology will come from the collection of Yalkut. Although it was Yalkut’s idea for an anniversary exhibit, he did not live to see the completion of it, passing away in July, 2013 due to illness. Baggs noted that while Digital Abstraction is not a tribute to Yalkut, his spirit and works are a distinct part of the completed exhibit.

“He told me at the onset ‘we’re going to do this show no matter what happens,’” Baggs said. “I’m honored to keep it going and honor the man who brought so much amazing art into Dayton.”

Baggs actually met Yalkut when Baggs was studying at the University of Cincinnati. Baggs was producing the annual spring arts festival, and heard about Yalkut’s media for the 1968 festival.

“It was spoken of in such reverent terms, I wanted him to come and show it,” Baggs said. “He did and we became immediate friends.”

After Yalkut passed away, Cortes came on board as organizing curator. Baggs said her help has been crucial in getting the exhibit ready. He also noted that with this winter weather, the bright colors and contrasts of Digital Abstraction will be a welcome change.

Digital Abstraction is presented in conjunction with R.E.A.C.H. (Realizing Ethnic Awareness and Cultural Heritage) Across Dayton, DVAC’s annual exhibition and studies conference partnership with Sinclair Community College and EbonNia Gallery. It opens on Friday, Jan. 16 with an opening reception from 5-8 p.m., and will be showcased through Feb. 27. A gallery talk will be held at 6:15 p.m. Feb. 26. Dayton Visual Arts Center is located at 118 N. Jefferson St. in downtown Dayton. For more information, please call 937.224.3822 or visit daytonvisualarts.org.

Reach DCP freelance writer Joyell Nevins at JoyellNevins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Joyell believes in the power of the written word, a good cup of coffee, and sometimes, the need for a hug (please, no Tommy Boy references). Follow her on her blog “Small World, Big God” at swbgblog.wordpress.com or reach her at joyellnevins@daytoncitypaper.com

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