Monday, April 2, 2012

ism  breath she  who  with  I

By Patrick Sutczak

Work by Nancy Mauro-Flude
Sawtooth Gallery March 2 – 24, 2012

The written word represents a certain type of symbol, one akin to the image, but somewhat removed due to the strict parameters of shape that make it discernible to a broad audience who are able to instantly identify and read what has been assembled via a careful hand. Written words have structure because it is the individual letters retaining the rules that define them that makes the word itself possible. A word is but the sum of its letters. A word is but a sum of the context in which it is applied. ‘I’ means little. ‘I love you’ says a lot. It is the combination, the arrangement, and the art of formation that makes the written word so beautiful.

What happens then when the written word becomes type, and when the type becomes computer text, and the computer text becomes something more than the written word on screen? It becomes something that most of us are unlikely to access or even understand. It becomes code.
Recently exhibited in the New Media Gallery space at Sawtooth ARI in Launceston, Nancy Mauro-Flude is an artist who not only understands the language of code, but also has the ability to use it as a vehicle for literary exploration and artistic outcomes presentable to a visual arts audience. What Mauro-Flude creates in a darkened room via multiple projections is a Live Code display that is familiar yet foreign. There are words, but they are displayed to us in a way that evoke the feeling of being witness to something, but to that of which we are not quite sure what we are seeing. There is a substrate that exists through Mauro-Flude’s work and one of which most of us are accustomed to being blissfully unaware thanks to the Graphical User Interface (or, point and click to make things happen). The realm that Mauro-Flude inhabits and interprets into art is that of Command Line Computing (cap, sed, grep, regux, to name a few).

ism  breath she  who  with  I is a work that delves deep into literary meaning and its place in computer mediated communications coupled with the artists’ own experiences of feminine roles in academia, and in life. In this work Mauro-Flude explores the writings of Virginia Wolfe, in particular Wolfe’s essay A Room of One’s Own. The work presents itself onscreen as short couplings of vertically scrolling words that seem to be experimenting with combination in order to find the right match. The result of this seemingly indecisive sequence is, to me, poetry. For example:

#cat roomofonesown.txt | grep -oE "[a-z]+ breath\b" | uniq |sort >> breath.txt
drew breath
her breath
his breath
hot breath
my breath
our breath
their breath
#cat roomofonesown.txt | grep -oE "\b[a-z]+ heart\b" | uniq |sort >> heart.txt
excitable heart
his heart
human heart
its heart
s heart
s heart
the heart

And this continues on and on. It is simply mesmerising. For a while it is possible to forget the human interaction of the artist at work, and feel as though the computer is in the infancy of AI searching for the right words to connect with us on a deeply emotional level, as if it is attempting to instigate the feeling of love through the combination of words. Again, to me, like poetry. In the dedicated exhibition space, we experience the scale that is offered by the use of multi-screen projection. In addition to the onscreen work itself, the immersive environment created through Matrix-esque green font in a pitch-black space is beautifully overwhelming and it is hard not to be drawn into the complexity of not only the work, but of the artist.

It is at this junction that the work becomes slightly disconcerting because once the realisation is made that this is an artist operating with a language and expertise that most of us lack the ability to access, questions surface about our own ambiguous relationship with computers and just how passive we are as users. I believe that work like this opens up the gap in knowledge like a flexed muscle splitting stitches. In the early days of computer interfacing, the vast majority of us fell into the what can the computer could do for me category, while I feel Mauro-Flude hitched herself up on the rolling wagon that asked the question what can the computer do, and off she went.

Perhaps this is what makes ism  breath she  who  with  I so fascinating. It is a rare glimpse behind the curtain of what language is in the 21st Century. Words are no longer just written, typed or spoken. They are altered and rearranged to form a script that fuses the bond between woman and machine, woman and place, woman and life, and more importantly woman and word. The work of Nancy Mauro-Flude offers us something visually appealing, deeply thought provoking, and suitably confounding. Just the way I like it.

If you missed ism  breath she  who  with  I at Sawtooth ARI in Launceston, I highly recommend you visit and explore this and other works by a highly talented and imaginative artist.

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