Fade to White

We all know middle-aged folks are scared of the new, unless of course it’s a new ’Vette or new boobs. “Lightwaits,” by Ryan Ross and Jason Chakravarty, feels new—all static electricity and buzzy Theremin lights—but it’s actually not new, with its roots, as they are, back in the ’70s Light & Space scene (and their roots before that in Metropolis and Frankenstein’s bride). This makes middle-aged folks feel much more at home while still giving them the illusion of hip youthfulness, openness and still-elasticized skin. It’s a pleasingly interactive techno bite, without actually having to listen to techno or trance. Win-win!

The lights are dimmed in Cal State Fullerton’s Atrium Gallery, so that the blue and violet light beams can hum through their bubbled glass jars. 1502-3-1-5 could hold Abby Normal’s brain, or tentacles, or a lump of jellied coral. It’s almost impossible to tell what that hump really is supposed to be, so you’ll have to Rorschach it. (Me? It’s alive!) Upper Hand is a jar stuffed with drawings of guns—very, but very, Charles Krafft—while atop the jar is a bronze hand with a chariot on it, the reins forming a projectile ready to launch from the index finger like the rubber bands your brother used to shoot at you. It’s non-threatening violence in its most mundane form, the tiny size a joke—until, of course, one’s been overwhelmed by Lilliputians or midgets or humanoid squirrels.

There are a few of these mixes of high-tech bits with retro Bronze Age kitsch; Chakravarty especially seems to find the dissonance to be a profound statement on . . . er, something. (When in doubt, guess postmodernism.) Leave, for instance, is a phallic mushroom growing out of a patched, bandannaed bronze skull, which is then topped with tiny sheep pulling a bronze Boudicca or Califa. Texas Toast has little sheep in Stetsons. And Separating (the vowels from the consonants; I refuse to write out the work’s entire title) holds two kitschy little bronze sea captains playing tug of war with a tube—fiber optics?—over an empty span while sitting on cylinders stuffed full of glowing cubes. The discord between high-tech and Bronze Age doesn’t actually say much; it’s amusing, and beautifully composed. But are the glowing blocks supposed to mean anything? Or is Chakravarty just playing with funny captain and sheep dolls?

Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

Ross spells out his intentions much more explicitly. The Idea Process is a plywood box whose handle you crank, causing a clown to light the bulb over a headless man’s empty suit. The Anti-Decision Machine bears words and phrases like possibly, not really, kind of and perhaps. Pushing a red button (no whammies!) causes a light to spin among them, eventually . . . not choosing one. Ross plays with light fields too, sticking them all behind mesh and letting them fade from blue to white.

One of the most fantastic art experiences I’ve had was at MOCA for a light-sculpture exhibit, re-created works of the ’70s and ’80s. Entire rooms would be made of nothing but pink and orange light, and the claustrophobia or euphoria (or both) was exquisite, each light particle seeming to whisper on a different inch of skin. Ross and Chakravarty are on the path to that, learning their trade and their fiber optics. Now they just have to think massive.


9 A.M.-5 P.M.; SAT.-SUN., 10 A.M.-5 P.M. THRoUgh DEC. 13.


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