by Jeanne Rosen
New Media Series: Bill Smith, "Loop Web"
Saint Louis Art Museum
October 31, 2008–January 4, 2009
The New Media Series currently on view at the Saint Louis Art Museum features works that utilize technology to create art. Artist Bill Smith's “Loop Web” includes film, sculpture and audio components that create a visual and auditory experience which is thought-provoking on many different levels.
As odd as it may sound, the first component of this piece is a film projected onto a wall, featuring monkeys (lots of monkeys) bounding through a rainforest against a soundtrack (the second component) of old spiritual hymns and dramatic preaching. “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” is sung by a man with an Al Jolsen-type of voice and choirs in the background. What comes to mind almost instantly is the origins of humankind, creation, “The Garden,” evolution. The third component is a sculptural piece suspended from the ceiling that hangs just below the film. The sculpture is beautifully rendered of berry twigs and has five bulbs or pod-like shapes hanging from them. This is illuminated by a kaleidoscope of colors projected onto the twigs and bulbs, which in turn creates a pattern on the floor and becomes the fourth component of the work.
At the very beginning of the loop (the digital DVD that plays continuously) the bulbs are illuminated in white, the same as any ordinary lightbulb. This signals the beginning of the loop process, but it’s also the beginning of time, of life itself. As time progresses, the bulbs are illuminated in a beautiful assortment of colors by the complex stream of light. On the bulbs are produced gorgeous hues, while the pattern on the floor resembles live cells undulating under a microscope. Two perspectives on life are represented here: the simplistic idea of life beginning in “The Garden” (also embodied in the naïve look on the monkeys’ face) brought into existence by a creator “God,” to the complexity of a single living cell. Smith uses images from the Hubble space telescope to stress the vastness of the universe and of the unknown. He plays with the patterns from the telescope and with the patterns of living cells, showing their similarities.
Smith does a great job at stimulating our thinking from simple explanations of how we came to be here, to the very complex realities of what living beings are made of. He succeeds in making us ponder big concepts, while delighting us with the beauty of it all, and leaves the questions for us to answer.
Saint Louis Art Museum is located at One Fine Arts Drive in Forest Park, St. Louis, MO. 314/721-0072. Free & open to the public Tuesday-Sunday.
Jeanne Rosen earned her BA in Art History and MA in Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA.