Digital Underground

Art House's 'Digital Artifacts' strikes sublime tone between past, present and future

"I was thinking about back when we began with the personal computer, and how it didn't begin to affect my life personally at all until the 1990s," says Kathleen Richards, exhibitions manager for Art House, the Carl and Marilynn Thoma Foundation's gallery space. "That was the beginning of this massive change in our world, our history; we're moving so quickly, and I've thrown away several computers—but should I have? They go from being a useful object to old and redundant to a potentially valuable artifact that might be used to power a work of art or some amazing creation."

This idea permeates Digital Artifacts, Art House's newest installation from Curator of Digital Art Jason Foumberg, an exquisite merging of fine art and disparate technologies. Small in scope but endlessly exciting, Artifacts is a bit of a mashup of archaeology and anthropology with works making use of current and long-standing tech—think HDTVs, projectors, printing processes and even hand-stitching—for simple yet astounding statements.

Take New York City-based artist
Michal Rovner, who projects ghostly shadows onto a rock she discovered in her homeland of Israel in "Dahui." At first glance, the piece looks like motionless and ancient cave drawings, but as the viewer scans its face longer, they'll notice subtle movements from the figures. "Dahui" is presented within a glass case, a symbol of its importance as artifact, but ultimately playing on our expectations and notions of artistic values.

Nearby, Los Angeles artist Casey Reas' "Today's Ideology (28 August 2016)" makes use of a sideways hi-def monitor and countless photos strewn distorted across its screen, appearing like rapidly evolving ribbons of color and grayscale imagery.

"He took one day, one newspaper, The New York Times, and he downloaded every image [from the paper] that day," Richards says. "He took those images and wrote an algorithm that is ever-changing. It becomes an artifact of who we were on that day, and we may recognize some of the images, you may catch a glimpse of something you know—but, essentially, that day, everything that happened there, is gone."

Catty-corner across the room is "Untitled" by Brooklyn's Josh Tonsfeldt. He's torn apart and rebuilt a hi-def monitor, exposing the LED lights within and adding simple sculpture in its guts along with a computer-animated loop of moments from his day. These appear as jet black projections on an otherwise, transparent screen, and they hit like magic every couple minutes.

"Instead of saying, 'What thing can I create from these objects?', it's saying, 'What can I create from ripping these materials apart?'" Richards posits.

In the low-tech sphere, Los Angeles' Sabrina Gschwandtner's 2014 "Expanding/Receding Squares" toys with our emotions and our perceptions by appearing as a simple quilt from a distance, but revealing itself to be hand-stitched filmstrips in various colors instead. Of all the pieces in Digital Artifacts, Gschwandtner's flips the script most surprising and satisfying way.

"Slides are now completely redundant, and filmstrips like these, you don't keep them anymore," Richards tells SFR. "But in rescuing these little artifacts, she's created something entirely new and lyrically beautiful using traditional means."

Rounding out the show is Bay Area artist and musician Guillermo Galindo's "American Dream Flag" from 2015. A native of Mexico, Galindo forages along the Rio Grande river several times a year, creating instruments from discarded materials and repurposing otherwise forgotten items into visual triumphs. This particular piece—a fragile, fraying flag—has a storied past.

"There was a group of rescuers who would put water tanks for wanderers who were trying to cross the border, and the flag would let them know there was water to be found," Richards says. "It's like the tenuousness of life, and he printed on it a musical score—it's like an abstract piece, and the music was created out of and for the instruments he's created with detritus from the Rio Grande."

And this is just one room, one show. Elsewhere in Art House are paintings from the 1700s, a moving digital homage to Andrea Solari featuring Lady Gaga, tweaked LED screens, a massive hybrid photo collage/map of San Francisco and, perhaps the crown jewel of Art House, a small black box theater featuring a wall of screens playing abridged versions of international art films. Users can control the experience with the provided tablet, and three minutes inside took us from political statement pieces to an animated dance party, from the interior of a snow globe to what appeared to be a moving paean to Arcimboldo.

Richards agrees that it's often challenging to court young folks, but that Art House's quarterly rotations are probably some of the most enticing in the city. The collection is astounding in scope and size, and pieces never repeat from show to show. Its parent, the Thoma Foundation, has worked alongside the Currents New Media Festival annually, and its founder, Carl Thoma, is consistently searching out new works across the globe.

"The long game is to have a massive and beautiful and shareable collection," Richards says.

We like the sound of that.

Digital Artifacts
5-7 pm Friday Nov. 30. Free.
Through Nov. 30, 2019.
Art House,
231 Delgado St.,

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