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Transforming the Artistic Landscape with Michael Theodore


Interactive and immersive art is de rigueur these days (think recent works by Yayoi Kusama, James Turrell, Random International’s Rain Room at the MoMA). It’s bigger, louder, and brighter—far from a 2D painting clinging to the walls of the Louvre. Blame it on the cultivated narcissism of the Instagram era or the proliferation of #SELFIE culture, whatever the reason, people want living and breathing art, something they can use to place themselves within the narrative. Playing squarely into that modern craving is the kinetic, percussionist work of new media artist Michael Theodore.

Utilizing hardware and software, Theodore pushes the limitations of perception, creating sensations that are familiar via new and unfamiliar mediums. Take, for instance, Theodore’s 2012 “Swarm Wall,” which creates an altogether foreign textured surface out of unevenly placed circular tubes over which drag long coils attached to rotating arms. The coils—which, when in motion, produce a sound not dissimilar to rain pounding on a tin roof—are responsive to viewers in the way a dog might be: they beg for your attention when ignored, shudder and shake when you’re up close, go absolutely nuts when in proximity to large groups. There is an exchange of impact ordinarily not found within traditional art. Your presence is integral to its very “artness,” if you will.

Of Theodore’s 2013 “endo/exo” exhibition, a work that juxtaposes a hard, grid-like industrial structure with an unruly and organic mass of tangled ropes, the intention is much the same. “We’re watching it, but it’s watching us,” Theodore says of the work. “It’s a meditation on the nature of biological and mechanical consciousness. Can our machines and artistic artifacts join us in our contemplation of aesthetic experiences?” It’s an attempt to marry the organic with the inorganic, creating a new and seamless landscape.

As our lives become increasingly entangled with the seemingly hard and cold nature of technology, Theodore attempts to impart a greater humanistic quality to the inanimate. The results are pretty spectacular, a treat for the eyes and the ears, and—as high culture is wont to do—the brain.  

Photos courtesy of Michael Theodore and David B. Smith Gallery.