By Sloan Nota
on July 16th, 2020
TED Talk by Janet Eschelman, 9.5 minutes
I notice a strange kinship between the works of Janet Eschelman and Nancy Baker Cahill — trivial I expect each would rightly say but worth pondering say I. Both artists plan works against a background of sky. Not teapots on a tabletop, not twisted nudes on stools. Above is an impulse in both. How much art shares that?
Janet Eschelman’s netting installations attach to hold-fasts such as downtown office towers. They billow with wind and color and light. To showcase the effects of these things applied by fey nature rather than an artistic decision that says, It’s done is profound. The mysterious facts of local weather are a loud conceptual contrast to a closed contrivance. An invitation to come to life rather than a finished effect. Paint, bronze, extreme wedding cakes can’t attempt it.
Eschelman positions external lights with intention. Her nets are made of rope. Nothing inherently illuminating. Rope. The design of her nets includes a slackness that moves as feelingly as wind itself. This is an art of tension and abandon. There’s the ecological awareness alongside the grab-you aesthetic beauty. And the scale makes art you’ve never seen before. You are a small observer under it. There’s awe.
Baker-Cahill makes art that intervenes in the view you frame through your smart phone. The Augmented Reality piece she made for this recent July 4 takes a tangled batch of red-white-blue lines that form the suggestion of a Liberty Bell. If you look through your phone’s viewfinder at one end of Washington, DC’s reflecting pond you’ll see Baker Cahill’s bell huge above the water. The audio tolls solemnly as the bell seems to sway.
Baker Cahill’s graphic style — energetic bursts of lines, her focus on lines as opposed to blobs (mostly), her awareness of their aptness for expressing direction and speed. For expressing stream movement, a burbling over rocks. Or an explosion of colored remnants in the sky.
These lines are pixels not rope and by nature pixels are a form and source of light. There’s no outside photographer’s light, shining from the side. You can’t illuminate pixels. You can only add their shine to the shine of an external light, usually a diluting and muddling idea.
I assume but don’t know that this Augmented Reality work would appear on your smart phone as lit pixels, becoming brighter as the sun went down. The tether to the reality it augments is that the bell tolls over sites of historical interest.
I don’t understand technically why the bell only appears at certain sites. “Augmented Reality” may dictate it. I ponder what privacy and sanity issues would ensue if rogue artists beamed unexpected content into the viewfinder (reality-finder) of your phone.
I recently read a quantum physicist scoffing at the youthfulness of Quantum Theory — more or less a century — and comparing it to topics that have intrigued scientists as far back as Archimedes. The quantum man said there are things that don’t make sense in quantum mechanics and he wants for it make better sense. He’s in his forties. Maybe he will.
Keeping this physicist’s youngish-theory-attitude in mind I’ll make a last comparison between Eschelman and Baker Cahill. Eschelman has earned the accomplishments of a mature artist. She’s faced many daunting technical problems and come up a winner. As I said recently, the only other masterful rope artist I know of is Mrinalini Mukherjee. [I’m saddened to read that she died in 2015.]
Under duress, Eschelman took up native fishnets as a form and her art soared. She has changed “what is art?,” and gifted it with radical urban scope.
Augmented Reality is still under development, for Baker Cahill to step onto this unfirmed turf speaks to her brass and sass. [I use these loaded words for a reason: to normalize words like brass (nuts) and sass (a girly word). I consciously keep in the woman-centric metaphors that come to mind because my instinct is to hide them. Don’t sound weak. Goddam, let those housework metaphors roll out like jellyrolls.]
Baker Cahill is now standing in a spot similar to the beach where Eschelman began. Looking up. Early times for her hugely unexplored medium. But she has willing sponsors. And a medium most humans are infants at using. I hope for big things from her once she’s gifted with the scope to match her wingspan.
• Boston Greenwy Project
• From a 2012 blogpost of mine, Fluidity
• FYI: Ismar2020, online conference Nov 9 – 13, 2020. IEEE International Symposium on Mixed and Augmented Reality (ISMAR) is the premier conference for Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR). Lots of folks claim to be “premier” so check this out another way before buying in.