Eyes Without a Face
'In a Thousand Drops' gazes into you
Last week in this space, we raved about Lothar Schmitz's "Survival Strategies" show at Cal State Long Beach's University Art Museum, going on at length about how much it reminded us of early-'70s, dystopian sci-fi films—you know, those movies in which the Earth of the far future has become a toxic hell and all the citizens live inside domed cities. Everybody is so busy having decadent hippie sex that they never bother to question the Supreme Leader they never get to see—they're just happy to be kept well-fed and drugged-up until they reach 30, and then they're dragged off by the robot cops and ground up into Soylent Green or whatever.
We know that if we go for the '70s dystopian sci-fi movie comparison two columns in a row, we'll look like total hacks who suffer from an unhealthy obsession with Logan's Run. Well, we're sorry, but we really just can't help going there again, people. The UC Irvine Beall Center for Art + Technology is now featuring "In a Thousand Drops: Refracted Glances," a show from Kenneth Newby, Aleksandra Dulic and Martin Gotfrit (the art collective known as the Computational Poetics Research Group), and it's so very '70s sci-fi that it makes for a perfect sequel to "Survival Strategies." If Schmitz's show could have been called "Planet of the Bubble Cities," this one would be "Beneath the Planet of the Bubble Cities," the one in which we meet the Supreme Leader and discover his terrible secret.
If you didn't guess that the Supreme Leader was a big, scary supercomputer, then you really don't know your '70s sci-fi. Every sci-fi movie made between 1969 and Star Wars ended with a heroic rebel with goofy sideburns facing down a giant computer, introducing it to the concept of "love" before having to run for his life as the machine began to shout, "DOES NOT COMPUTE!" and self-destructed in an explosion so spectacular it shattered the dome over the city. Freed from their plastic prison, the child-like citizens of the future would then discover that the allegedly toxic air was actually breathable and the surrounding countryside was alive with the sounds of babbling brooks and twittering birdies. And thus would a new Eden begin. (Hey, nobody ever accused the hippies of being subtle.) "Refracted Glances" features a device that would've made an ideal Supreme Leader, a technological horror so effective that we wouldn't trust anybody but Charlton Heston to take it on. Poor Michael York would just faint dead away at the sight of this thing.
Inside a bare, black room, where eerie, spacey music is playing, you are confronted by an undulating wall of screens, and on each of these screens, there is the moving image of an eye. A gazillion eyes, all from different people. And as you watch them, they watch you, like they're tracking you. The pictures on the screens shift and shuffle; at some points, it's lots of eyes, while at others, it becomes one big, staring eye made up of lots of little eyes. Then you see a huge profile of a head, assembled from dozens of different heads. Parts of the head seem to move in different time frames—it's constantly catching up with itself—and then the head(s) turn to face you with an eerie slowness, like some hungry giant in a nightmare.
The effect is damn near impossible to describe, but trust us, when you see it, you'll totally get where we're coming from with all of this Logan's Run crap.
What's the point of it all? The Beall Center's website hits you with a heavy blast of artspeak, but it doesn't get much better than the opening sentence: "'In a Thousand Drops: Refracted Glances' explores the way identity is constructed in an increasingly fragmented milieu." That's fine. All we know is that when we emerged, blinking and raw, into the sunlight, we were very glad to inhale unfiltered air and listen to the twittering of birdies.