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Eyes Forward

James Paulsen's work examines the City of Buffalo's new surveillance cameras.

Socially conscious art @ Buffalo Arts Studio

The current Buffalo Arts Studio show includes three projects concerning local and global socioeconomic issues. None provides final answers on the issues they tackle, but the idea is to raise questions more than to give answers.

James Paulsen has a series of oil paintings specifically on the subject of the police overhead surveillance cameras that have cropped up on street corners here and there around the city in the last few years, about as unannounced as the crocuses in the springtime, but not necessarily as welcome. Not necessarily as useful.

Ostensibly a mechanism to fight crime, Paulsen says there is no evidence the cameras deter or reduce crime. He cites the findings of a congressional committee to support this statement. But a giant step in the direction of Orwellian Big Brother is watching you.

The economic question is about spending $4.4 million—-that’s what Paulsen said the initial Buffalo program cost, for 56 cameras—for the surveillance program, versus for that amount of money funding additional police patrols.

The art images range from near-photo-realist clear and precise in the straight-on depictions of the overhead cameras on light poles and portions of backdrop scenery, to weirdly distorted representations of what the camera fish-eye lens sees. That is, the distorted images are photo-realist, too, but as the surveillance camera sees reality. Big Brother’s skewed vision.

A collaborative work by Megan Michalak and Stephanie Rothenberg features a computer program and impromptu pipe organ that plays the music of social collapse, according to Ms. Michalak. In the wake of such recent events (in this country, at least) as the housing and general economic crises, the computer program conducts an opinion poll designed to elicit gut feelings more than hard data on what current events and attitudes bode for the future survival of any given country in the world, and translates the spectrum of responses into charts and graphs and a musical (or perhaps better, unmusical) composition that sounds through the organ.

Such poll questions as do you agree with the idea that software is like sex, it’s better when it’s free, or whether social progress can be measured by the social position of the fair sex, the ugly ones included. Or you’re asked to rate your fear of people from other countries.

This is a work in progress, conceptually and technologically. Part of the idea is to be able to compare countries one against another in terms of perceived proximity to collapse. But the organ responses for the different countries sound a lot alike. Nor do the graphs and charts help much in this regard.

Meanwhile, a setup at the current Moscow International Biennale art show will allow Russians and other nationals there to input to the piece, triggering data analysis including organ response at the Buffalo Arts Studio installation on Saturday, July 3.

Works by Takashi Horisaki include a geodesic dome igloo covered with gauze and latex casts of aspects of vintage Buffalo housing and wall-hanging examples of such casts. The casts are very beautiful. They’re like relief sculpture tapestries or torn remnants in variegated pastel colors of the basic latex mix and ancient paint flakes and other color sources captured in the latex in the casting process. The reliefs are of carpentered architectural details (originally sculpture in its own right), door paneling and metalwork, brickwork, clapboarding, weathered wood grain.

The project used volunteer young people who went to East Side and West Side neighborhoods and performed the casting, under the artist’s direction.

The project was also assisted by two non-profit groups, PUSH, a West Side organization involved in housing and property rehabilitation, and Buffalo ReUse, an East Side group focused on green demolition, which translates to maximum salvage and reuse of demolition materials.

But Horisaki said his focus was less on recycling and reuse and rehab than on social issues, on getting the young people into parts of the city—into worlds—different from their own. Getting them to know neighborhoods and the people of the neighborhoods they hadn’t known before.

Then, he said, it was about taking what’s best from the past and using it to fashion the future. Buckminster Fuller was a guru of the 1960s and 1970s. He had a million great ideas, most of which turned out to be flops. But he invented the geodesic dome. That idea lasted. So the geodesic dome—the good idea from the past—becomes the skeleton of the structure. And on it you hang other good remnants of the past, and in the process make something completely new.

The Buffalo Arts Studio exhibit continues through August 7.

For more arts & gallery listings, see Artviews.

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