Narcissus And Technology Is Focus Of Elizabeth Keithline’s Work

Elizabeth Keithline (in collaboration with Jeff Keithline), Narcissus at Night, 2010, steel wire Installation detail, Photo by James Visser

Elizabeth Keithline
In collaboration with Jeff Keithline

Curated by Elizabeth Keithline

Both through June 5, 2011
Danforth Museum of Art
123 Union Avenue
Framingham, Massachusetts

By Judith Tolnick Champa

Framingham – The seated, forward leaning figure of Narcissus, stilled, entranced by its own layered reflection, is the core symbol of Elizabeth Keithline’s insistently graphic installation, Smarter/Faster/Higher, on view in Framingham through June 5. Her Narcissus is a genderless steel wire matrix, like all other figurative elements in the work. But Narcissus is uniquely and closely overlooking and captivated by technology that reads as a watery, glowing, cool blue “pool, ” in fact a grid of video screens. Do these absorbing reflections collectively imply a record? A monitor for behaviour? They do constitute an intriguing, if perplexing, incessant wave of DNA conjuring shapes, suggesting endless replicas of Narcissus, his/her forebears, as well as his/her cyber-Darwinian progeny.

Elsewhere and proximous in the gallery space, in roughly circular fashion, other intentionally schematic wire mesh figures cluster variously. One peers down, like Narcissus, upon the pool. Others advance singly, or in another instance gravitate as a pair towards the pool, each figure situated on a flat base, white molecular patterned. These figures sometimes are seen in transit against floor-to-ceiling sculptural tree forms, or tree groves – animated, knotted, graphic – that cast shadows on the gallery walls, forming a subtle secondary encroaching insistence on movement and exchange, a mirroring or trailing of present/past, subject/object, actual/virtual, art/artifice. As viewers partaking of the challenging scenario expressed in the gallery space we are physically and conceptually included in the eponymous conundrum of “smarter/faster/higher,” and silently beckoned in (or back) by a solitary wire figure around the gallery corner, leaning inward from an adjacent related gallery space, observing it and us.

There, in the gallery next door, is “A Tool is A Mirror,” Keithline’s curated, highly complementary group exhibition, recently imported from the 2011 Boston Cyberarts Festival. It explores “concepts of technology as a tool of human evolution” through the carefully selected, varied but conversant work of 7 “allstar” New England cyber-artists. Here, Brian Kane’s OMG, an impressive, floating red nylon balloon sculpture, is physically and visually dominant. The personal, Oh My God abbreviation associated with texting meets the retro character of graphic novels that simultaneously references Claes Oldenburg’s soft sculpture precedents and, no less bodily, an exposed heart. With his sheer scale, vibrant color and amateurish “OMG!” lettering Kane seems to cry out to restore the sense of the manual to the digital toolbox, reminding us that the breathing, yet easily vulnerable to collapse balloon represents a generative human force to be reckoned with as we operate increasingly in a digitally propelled universe.