Barry Anderson with his installation “Fragments of Space: Multiplex” at Commerce Bank
The future is here, and so far it hasn’t taken the form of flying cars, robot servants, convenient interplanetary travel, or most of the other technological promises offered by 20th-twentieth century creative media.
It is, rather, the ubiquity of screens in our daily lives that stands in as a demarcation between the quaintly analog past and modernity. And thus it is fitting that Barry Anderson’s installation, “Fragments of Space: Multiplex,” reaches out to the world from four flat monitors situated in the Commerce Bank Building’s aptly named Digital Art Wall.
Part of a broader series of work that began in 2015, titled “Fragments of Space,” the “Multiplex” exhibition takes viewers on an imaginary tour of both physical and psychological spaces. Playing on a continuous cycle, the video from each screen bleeds onto the next, leaving all four panels slightly ahead of or behind their neighbors. This perpetual motion, along with the intentionally crooked positioning of each screen, may be jarring at first, but the ability of an intangible artistic experience to conjure an almost physical reaction in its audience represents a triumph, not a flaw. Once viewers have taken a moment to acclimate to the rhythm of the piece, it is likely they will settle on a single screen to watch, perhaps with brief sojourns to turn their attention to the gestalt of the four screens interacting.
Created using Cinema 4D and After Effects software, the actual content on the screens works in tandem with the infinite loops in which they play. Passersby who linger to watch an entire cycle of the installation will be rewarded with multiple visits to two separate realms. The more easily recognizable landscape, a sleekly rendered maze, places viewers in a first-person perspective moving through a post-industrial labyrinth, complete with rapid turns and dead ends.
The purpose of the maze remains a mystery; Anderson’ work embraces the premise that the journey matters more than the destination. The traversal through the digital warren happens quickly, almost to the point of feeling frantic and claustrophobic. Viewers may notice their lack of agency quite acutely, as all decisions about which way to go take place on the other side of the monitors. Someone who might have chosen to go right will find themselves going left.
To further tantalize the audience, Anderson’s maze is populated with terrain and artifacts that practically beg for a closer look. But alas, the movement of the video whisks us past flooded chambers, a doll, and even a partially submerged cow with a swiftness that defies any close examination. Those with the fortitude for multiple viewings, of course, may have an opportunity to relish the details that a more cursory observation would miss.
In between trips through the maze, Anderson takes his viewers into an even more surreal environment that manifests as iridescent, geometric shapes that expand and fold back into themselves. And while these sequences are more abstract, there is something about the undulation of light and color that evokes serenity. One interpretation might be that these segments represent the inner psychological workings of humanity. Another could see the artist having taken mercy on his audience and granting them a meditative reprieve in between jaunts through the more cognitively and emotionally taxing maze components of the work.
In the end, the reason for the animations, which represent great technical skill, is less important than the fact they exist. Anderson’s art is deliberately minimalist, both aesthetically and in terms of the context it offers.
Human beings spend a tremendous amount of their waking hours staring at screens. To do so in a way that promotes reflection and elicits an emotional catharsis is a unique and rare experience. To that end, Anderson is highly successful in creating digital art for a digital era.
“Fragments of Space: Multiplex” continues at the Commerce Bank Digital Art Wall, 1001 Main St., through Oct. 4. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday. For more information contact Robin Trafton, curator, Commerce Bank, 816.760.7885 or Robin.Trafton@commercebank.com.