Art New England
Aug/Sept, 2003


New Art Center in Newton

By Luke Jaeger



The Ballad of Wires and Hands may be the most impressive display of human handiwork engineered to inspire awe and contemplation ever gathered under the roof of the New Art Center- even during the building's previous incarnation as a church.

The eleven artists in the show probe the increasingly porous boundary between the mechanical and the biological. If that sounds like a recipe for a dry, technical show, it isn't. Curator Dana Moser fills the space with an assortment of kinetic, interactive, electronic, and machine art that's both deep and wide. It is an esthetic generous enough to encompass the exquisitely hand-wrought as well as the dumpster-dived, and it carries and emotional range one rarely sees in a genre that too often strives merely to impress with its coolness.

The stately and gracefully articulated steel arms of A. M. Lilly's Couple translate the gestures of a timy electric motor into swooping, sweeping arcs whose shadows and reflections reverberate in the high-ceiling space. Kinetic maestro Arthur Ganson weighs in with pieces ranging from the delicate clockwork of Machine with Small Chair and Rock to the inexorable Radio Press, whose imperceptibly slow-moving steel plates crushed a captive plastic radio to smithereens over the course of a month. Christy Georg's Attainment, a mechanized spinning wine glass that slowly fills with water, approaching but never quite reaching the pitch of a nearby tuning fork, gives off intermittent, melancholy music. There is humor, too, particularly in David Webber's UNTITLED (superfantasticrobotvoodoopower), which resembles the illicit progeny of a mobile DJ setup, a high-school science lab, and the home appliance section of a thrift shop.

Webber's tongue-in-cheek installation places houseplants on spinning phonograph turntables. Live video of the revolving flora is fed to a synthesizer to produce stochastic music; the resulting racket is piped back to the plants. Whether the plants find their own music more nutritious than Mozart will undoubtedly be a subject for pseudo-botanists of the future.