Brooklyn the Borough | ‘Generative’ Blends Art, Design, and Technology

Posted on Jun 23, 2010

by Suzanne Stroebe

“Generative,” currently on view at Klaus Von Nichtssagend Gallery in Williamsburg is difficult to define. A collaboration between artist Alex Dodge and Brooklyn based tech start-up Generative, the series of concept prototypes shown in the gallery seriously blur the boundaries between art, design, and technology. Dodge’s level of comfort grappling the conceptual, sculptural and the technological simultaneously is not unusual in the art world today: more and more contemporary artists are leaving the confines of art history and collaborating with specialists from other fields such as science, music, and botany. Dodge’s show, however, may be one of most thought provoking in that he seems to be subtly criticizing his collaborators.

The pieces in the show are well designed and beautiful in an Apple-like way: sleek, cool, comforting, and well built. They range from highly marketable, practical products to the absurd. An example of the former is the Power Step Shoe, a comfortable yet fashionable looking item that stores the wearer’s energy from walking in a removable power-cell stored in the heel. Wearable Interface is similarly appealing. A crisp white jacket designed to be unisex and trendy with a motorcycle-style collar is embedded with “multiple adaptable standard USB ports, GPS, accelerometers, microphones, temperature and photo sensors, the garment’s on-board processor can be trained and programmed to interact with a range of other devices.” Plug in an iPhone and essentially you have a laptop you can wear with skinny jeans.

Like walking through the Apple store, it is easy to get caught up in the desire for these objects and to forget to consider them on a conceptual level. Without making any explicit commentary, Dodge does invoke the viewer to question our inclination to be constantly connected to our technological devices with works such as Human Interface Device and Sleep Talker. A massage table modified to include a laptop under the face pad, Human Interface Device allows the user to recline completely (and face down, to avoid distractions of the outside world) while using a computer. Sleep Talker is a soft helmet that is worn to bed. Loosely based on conventional social networking like Facebook, this device allows communication with others or “broadcasting” while unconscious.

The more dependent we have become on constant access to the internet, the more products have been developed that we could never before have imagined but now cannot live without. The Internet and electronic devices are such an integral part of our daily existence today the subject scarcely warrants a discussion on the possible negative impacts of our dependences. Social networking sites, webcams, and email have greatly improved communication for business and personal purposes and provide access to a vast amount of knowledge and resources. However they can also threaten our ability to connect and communicate with people face to face. Online we escape reality, the drudgery of our daily lives and relationships for instant gratification with no consequences. We can go wherever, see whomever, do whatever we desire, because it is not real. “Generative Prototype 2010” highlights the impact of technology on society in a subtle, non-didactic way, imploring the viewer to ask where culture may be heading when we long for products that allow us to be hooked up to multiple electronic devices while walking, socializing, laying down, or even asleep.

– Suzanne Stroebe

Alex Dodge’s Generative runs through July 19, 2010 at Klaus Von Nichtssagend Gallery, 438 Union Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11211